Ireland win to end England’s chance of record unbeaten run

Ireland win to end England’s chance of record unbeaten run
Ireland's Donnacha Ryan during a maul. Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Ireland 13 England 9

England's winning run was finally brought to a close as their quest for consecutive Grand Slams ended in a 13-9 defeat by Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

The reigning RBS 6 Nations champions fell to a try by Iain Henderson and eight points from Johnny Sexton, denying them the 19th successive Test victory that would have eclipsed the record set by New Zealand last year.

Ireland's Iain Henderson scores the first try. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
Ireland's Iain Henderson scores the first try. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

A frenetic but one-sided first half gave way to a more tense rain-swept second period and while the scoreline painted the picture of a close encounter, Ireland were clear masters on a day when history beckoned for Eddie Jones' men.

England had been urged to embrace the occasion by Jones, who stated "greatness" would accompany the prize of back-to-back Grand Slams, but it was a rattled team that trailed 10-3 at half-time.

Possession read 75 per cent in Ireland's favour and visits to the home 22 were rare and brief, and they were fortunate to trail only to Henderson's converted try.

It was a different England to the team that flattened Scotland 61-21 seven days earlier to claim a second successive Six Nations title with a round to spare, panic sweeping through their ranks as they succumbed to the pressure of the occasion.

England's Billy Vunipola is tackled by Ireland's Iain Henderson at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
England's Billy Vunipola is tackled by Ireland's Iain Henderson at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Once the exhilarating chaos of the first half had subsided, the champions settled and at times they hinted at a revival that would propel them past the All Blacks' milestone, but they never truly ignited as Jones endured his first loss since taking charge at Twickenham.

Ireland saved their best performance of the tournament for its climax, overcoming the late withdrawal of Jamie Heaslip through injury and absence of half-back general Conor Murray to ambush the Grand Slam march at its final hurdle.

Ireland's Peter O'Mahony. Photo: PA
Ireland's Peter O'Mahony. Photo: PA

It was a repeat of 2011 when England were denied at the same stage and the Dublin crowd was every bit as boisterous this time, especially during a final 10 minutes controlled by the green shirts.

Sexton was clearly targeted in a match that will help shape British and Irish Lions selection with the tourists' head coach Warren Gatland watching from the stands, but the Leinster fly-half could at least take heart from knowing he had steered Ireland to a famous win.

Kick off was delayed by five minutes due to the 100-minute marathon staged between France and Wales in Paris, possibly causing the series of errors afflicting both teams once the Aviva Stadium showdown began.

It made for an pulsating start as dropped passes, charged down kicks and turnovers turned the opening exchanges into a lottery from which Ireland emerged in credit when Sexton booted a penalty.

England's Owen Farrell with Jonathan Sexton of Ireland. Pic: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
England's Owen Farrell with Jonathan Sexton of Ireland. Pic: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Mike Brown prevented Keith Earls from scoring in the right corner following a spell of Irish pressure, but the next attack was England's and while they could make little meaningful headway Farrell was able to slot three points.

Maro Itoje escaped with a warning from referee Jerome Garces after clattering high and late into Sexton, who then sent two kickable penalties into touch rather than going for goal, and that endeavour was rewarded when Henderson was at the end of a line-out drive.

The ferocious pace continued as Elliot Daly almost escaped the Irish cover after gathering Farrell's clever chip, but England were back on the defensive almost immediately.

Ireland's Sean O'Brien with Joe Launchbury of England. Pic: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Ireland's Sean O'Brien with Joe Launchbury of England. Pic: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The champions were reeling with George Ford the next to be touched by panic, the fly-half sending a kick straight into touch to invite another assault from the home team, who were playing for the prize of Six Nations runners-up.

Ireland were dominating in every department, but their 10-3 lead was a sub-par return given the amount of possession they had generated.

The malaise continued into the second-half and even Billy Vunipola was afflicted when the big number eight - who was joined on the field by brother Mako after the interval - dropped the ball as he broke from the back of a scrum.

The Ireland team stand for a minute's silence in memory of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick of Rescue Team 116. Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland
The Ireland team stand for a minute's silence in memory of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick of Rescue Team 116. Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Half an hour remained when Farrell landed a long-range penalty and now there were tentative signs of an English revival, their pack finally starting to make an impression on the opposition.

But there was no real momentum behind the fightback and a mighty roar greeted Sexton's successful penalty on the wrong side of the 10 metre line.

England's bench had been all but emptied and the tension mounted as Farrell landed a third penalty, but Ireland closed out the remaining minutes with calm efficiency to deny Jones' men the ultimate prize in European rugby.

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