How the English and French media reacted to Ireland's Grand Slam victory

Freddie Steward's red card is much debated.
How the English and French media reacted to Ireland's Grand Slam victory

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton kicks to touch. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

The red card for Freddie Steward at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday may have been harsh, but the England star's dismissal did not determine the outcome of the game. That, as well as Ireland being World Cup contenders, is the general consensus in the English media in the wake of Saturday's clash in Dublin. 


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"I don’t think Steward’s red card ruined the game because," writes Clive Woodward in the Mail, "in my view, Ireland were always going to win and would have done so anyway had England stayed with 15 on the field."

He continues: "Ireland was much better before the team ran out of puff in the final quarter, with Steward having seen red and Jack Willis in the sin bin. It is impossible to defend against a team like Ireland with a man down, let alone with 13 players on the pitch. The result was inevitable late Irish tries."

"It was a disgraceful decision," according to Matt Dawson, who says the hosts 'probably' would have won anyway. "After the game I was in a lift going down into the media area with two Ireland players and even they said it was a bit harsh."

The World Cup winner admits, however, that Andy Farrell's side could well end the year with the Webb Ellis Trophy as well as the silverware secured this weekend. 

"I know from experience that it is very difficult to win a Grand Slam," he writes. "You need squad consistency, strength in depth and for the opposition not to work you out as the tournament goes on. I was really impressed with Ireland. They can go on to win the World Cup later this year, although New Zealand, France and South Africa are possible winners too."

Stephen Jones, in the Sunday Times, agrees Ireland are "a very fine team; they were much quicker, in thought and deed, and much more inventive than England.  You hope and pray that they train on for the big one this year."

On the red card, Jones writes: "It was 10-6 to Ireland when Steward left the field. So was it the key moment? I somehow doubt it. England did knock Ireland out of their stride at the start with surging commitment, but Ireland had scored just before the incident, and there was a sense that they were stabilising on their way to winning."

"[B]oth the Irish and the English opinion is right and wrong at one and the same time," Stuart Barnes says of the dismissal. "The letter of the law is the fallback position but the law isn’t necessarily correct simply because it’s the law. Laws are not the same as justice. Laws change."

Favourites to seal the Grand Slam on home turf, Will Greenwood detected some pre-game jitters around D4 on Saturday afternoon. 

"Irish people were saying they were nervous before kick-off and, actually, England forced them to be nervous in that first half," the former England man writes in the Telegraph."

"I called an Irish Grand Slam at the start of the Six Nations and I felt they are the best team. France are getting better, but Ireland deserved to win it all. On the ropes here, with the crowd quiet, you wonder when half of Dublin is telling you how terrified they are whether that seeps onto the field through osmosis psychologically. But they overcame that and thoroughly deserved the Grand Slam."

In the Telegraph, Daniel Schofield explains that Ireland -- looking desperate -- found a way to get the job done once again.

"Nowhere was the relief more palpable than in the Ireland coaching box. Andy Farrell had warned his team on Thursday that 'desperation is an illness' only to watch that virus rip through his previous immunised team. Kicks were skewed and offloads went to ground. Tadhg Furlong was given a mighty uncomfortable time by Genge at the scrum.

"Yet just as they had done at Murrayfield last week when they lost half their pack to injury, Ireland found a way to adapt when the script went in some strange directions. 

"It is testament to Ireland’s staggering depth that they got over the line here without three certain starters in the form of the injured Garry Ringrose, Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne. Probably the biggest compliment that you could pay Farrell’s squad is that they are not reliant on three or four big-game performers as many sides are. There is always someone willing to step up."

French sports daily L’Equipe had splashed with an ultimately vain exhortation to English rugby to do Fabien Galthie’s Bleus an impossible favour in Dublin on Saturday.

The morning after Ireland’s Grand Slam victory, it ran what could be considered a correction of sorts - though it didn’t have as much prominence.

“And now, the world,” its headline on page 12 ran as it pointed the 2023 Six Nations champions and number one men’s side in the world, at a deep World Cup run in six months.

Correspondent Guillaume Dufy insisted Ireland had “stammered their rugby and made unexpected errors,” against a “determined and aggressive England” on Saturday. And he pulled on a wearily well-worn note of caution amid his carefully qualified praise.

Had captain Johnny Sexton become a weak link in Ireland’s arsenal heading into the autumn’s tournament in France, he asked as he retreaded a pointlessly paradoxical hypothesis.

“This physically impressive team seems to drag a big flaw,” Dufy wrote, “that of being so dependent on its 37-year-old fly-half, dented and tired but always so impressive… Sexton is not immortal, and his clone does not exist. From now, he has to breathe, maybe even hibernate, and be kept on ice as much as possible.” 

Midi Olympique’s sister site Rugyrama, meanwhile, set about answering a different ‘annoying question’ - are 2023 Grand Slam-winning Ireland better than 2022 Grand Slam-winning France?

Last year, Ireland caused France problems in Saint-Denis without Sexton, journalist Yanis Guillou conceded. This year, in Dublin, they won comfortably without Jamison Gibson-Park, Dan Sheehan, or Tadhg Furlong, he said, brushing aside Fabien Galthie’s scoreline-warping standing protest that France were still “in the game” at the Aviva with 10 minutes remaining.

Guillou suggested Antoine Dupont, World Rugby’s player of the year in 2021, was more influential in France’s big Grand Slam-winning year than Josh Van der Flier, World Rugby’s player of the year in 2022, was in Ireland’s all-conquering squad this year.

In the end however - and this may be telling - he ducked a conclusion. Noting the undeniable scale of Ireland’s series win in New Zealand last summer, he wrote: “From a collective point of view, it seems the two teams are equal. It is still difficult to compare these two golden generations... But Fabien Galthié's France and Andy Farrell's Ireland now have a Grand Slam each.” 

He signed off with: “And what if the difference between the two was to be decided at the next World Cup? See you in September.” 

And Dufy pointed out the scale of Ireland’s challenge in France. “The start of Ireland’s World Cup will not be a walk in the park, with high-level matches to get out of Pool B, against Scotland and South Africa, and the possibility of a quarter-final against New Zealand or France. It will be a long and winding road, even for the best team in Europe and the world.”

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