Ireland reignited the St Patrick’s weekend celebrations by clinching Grand Slam success in Dublin for the first time with a battling 29-16 bonus-point victory over 14-man England.
The world’s top-ranked side were odds-on favourites to sweep aside their rivals but were made to work hard for the country’s fourth championship clean sweep overall.
Dan Sheehan’s two tries and further scores from Robbie Henshaw and Rob Herring ultimately elevated Andy Farrell’s class of 2023 alongside the heroes of 1948, 2009 and 2018 on a historic occasion at a rowdy Aviva Stadium.
England drew first blood through an Owen Farrell penalty as part of an encouraging start for the visitors that included significant headway made at the breakdown compared to France a week earlier.
Alex Dombrandt stopped Johnny Sexton from scoring with a tackle over the line and once the Irish attack had subsided, Farrell had landed another penalty.
Hugo Keenan raced through a gap, but England scrambled effectively, limiting Ireland to three points from Sexton.
England’s penalty count was growing but they were still making their tackles as the hosts built pressure on enemy territory.
Their defence parted in the 33rd minute, however, when Josh Van Der Flier broke from a line-out maul and fed the scoring pass to Dan Sheehan who was supporting on his inside shoulder.
Ireland led 10-6 with Sexton’s conversion and England suffered a hammer blow in first-half injury time when Freddie Steward was sent off for taking out Hugo Keenan with an arm to the head.
England lost Charlie Ewels to a red card inside 82 seconds of last year’s 32-15 Twickenham defeat to the Irish. And they were left facing a similarly uphill task 12 months on as they went into the break 10-6 and a man down after referee Jaco Peyper dismissed Steward for a robust challenge which forced off rival full-back Keenan.
Galvanised by the red card, the visitors reduced the deficit to a single point through another Farrell kick in the second period, with their penalty wins now being celebrated more fervently and the high stakes sparking a couple of flashpoints.
Steve Borthwick’s men were showing a steely resolve as they atoned for the France debacle and having won a scrum penalty, Farrell completed another successful shot at goal.
A pair of early Owen Farrell penalties heightened a palpable nervous tension in the air, before Sexton halved England’s lead with his milestone kick just before the midway point.
Ireland orchestrated some decent pressure in enemy territory but initially struggled to slip into their free-flowing rhythm or gain control against dogged opposition showing no signs of rolling over.
Ireland were controlling possession and territory but with the visitors fighting for everything at the breakdown, they were unable to make it count on the scoreboard.
Another scrum penalty enabled England to escape their half and as the match entered the final quarter tension hung in the Aviva Stadium air.
But when pressure built on the English line, gaps appeared in the defence and Robbie Henshaw slipped through one with ease as Ireland went 17-9 ahead.
And when a short side was brilliantly exploited, Sheehan was able to plunder his second try in the right corner to move the hosts out of sight.
Willis was sin-binned for tipping over the horizontal and replacement hooker Rob Herring completed a 29-16 victory that ignited the Grand Slam celebrations.