On This Day in 2017: England’s Grand Slam bid derailed by Ireland
Three years ago England pitched up in Dublin hunting a Six Nations Grand Slam and a Test world record, only to leave with neither.
Here, the PA news agency examines Ireland’s 13-9 victory on March 18, 2017, the fallout and legacy for both teams.
How the match unfolded
Ireland derailed England’s Grand Slam bid and wrecked Eddie Jones’ tilt at setting a new outright Test victory sequence in a rain-swept Dublin. England were chasing the Six Nations clean sweep and a 19th straight Test win, which would have eclipsed New Zealand’s 18-match sequence. Wily Australian boss Jones claimed “greatness” awaited England should the visitors claim victory at the Aviva Stadium, but his side were thwarted by Joe Schmidt’s obdurate Irish.
Iain Henderson’s converted try put Ireland in control 10-3 at the break, with the home men claiming 75 per cent possession. England clawed at a revival with an improved showing after the break, but were unable to turn the tide – with Jones suffering his first loss at the Red Rose helm. England again targeted Ireland’s linchpin fly-half Johnny Sexton for relentless physical treatment, but the Lions star was able to shake off a string of clatterings and steer his side to a gritty victory.
How they reacted
England boss Jones shouldered the blame for his side’s defeat, as he endured a loss for the first time in his tenure. “You have these days, Ireland played superbly and they were too good for us on the day; and we weren’t good enough,” he said. “We’re all human beings, we’re not perfect, and that’s why world records finish at 18 games because it’s hard to keep. They used the conditions superbly we probably didn’t. They played above themselves; we played below our usual level. I didn’t prepare the team well enough today, and the next Test we play I’ll prepare them better.”
Ireland boss Schmidt was delighted to add another big scalp, with his side having claimed a maiden victory over New Zealand in November 2016. “We just wanted to make sure all the bits and pieces we needed to get right to get a skinny margin over a super team, we ticked all those boxes,” he said. “The bit of pride we can take is the three teams that sit above us in the world we have beaten in the last six months.”
What the future held
This victory set Ireland up for an all-conquering 2018, comprising a Six Nations Grand Slam and a maiden win in Dublin over the All Blacks. Johnny Sexton ended that 12 months as World Player of the Year, and Ireland as the globe’s top-ranked team.
For England, this was perhaps a portent of falling at the last hurdle that would hit even harder in future. And Jones even predicted as much right after the loss in Dublin, admitting his side had to improve to stand a chance of winning the 2019 World Cup. Jones’ men ploughed their way to the 2019 show piece clash in Yokohama, only to be undone 32-12 by an inspired South Africa. And hindsight only serves to heighten his comments in Dublin two years earlier, when he said: “To win the World Cup you’ve got to win seven in a row, you’ve got to cope with that pressure. That was like a World Cup final today and we weren’t good enough.”