Ireland earns Grand Slam by beating England

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LONDON — Ireland made it a St. Patrick's Day for the ages by claiming a rare Six Nations Grand Slam after stifling the old enemy England in a fabulous 24-15 win at Twickenham Saturday.

This was only the third clean sweep by Ireland since the term Grand Slam came into use 110 years ago.

The Irish won the championship the previous weekend and came to the last-round matchup with the deposed two-time champion as slight favorites, but without having won at the home of rugby in eight years.

The fear factor was broken by Ireland in a superb first half with three converted tries to lead by 21-5 at halftime.

Two of those tries suspiciously involved knock-ons but there was no doubt that Ireland deserved a victory built on a decisive attack in the first half and defense in the second as England rallied amid snow flurries.

"It was a ferocious test match," Ireland captain Rory Best said. "We had to make every moment count. We knew the reward would be worth the massive effort required."

England lost a Six Nations home match for the first time since 2012, and three matches in the championship for the first time since 2006.

An England with seven changes ultimately matched Ireland's three tries, but two didn't come until the last 15 minutes. Owen Farrell also missed all three of his goalkicks, while Ireland's goalkicks were shared by Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray and Joey Carbery as Sexton went on and off the field dealing with head issues.

Ireland's dream start began in the sixth minute when a Sexton up-and-under fell toward the England try-line. Fullbacks Anthony Watson and Rob Kearney jumped for it, the ball spilled over the line and Ireland center Garry Ringrose dived over them to pounce on it.

It was confirmed after considerable video review by New Zealand official Ben Skeen, but he missed the ball touching Kearney's left hand, which made it a knock-on.

Ireland had an answer to all of England's questions through the first quarter, then punched in a second try to No. 8 CJ Stander. Ruck ball moved to prop Tadhg Furlong in the backline in midfield. Sexton doubled round him and England tracked him, missing Bundee Aki who burst off Furlong into space and fed Stander, whose momentum allowed him to plant the ball beside the left post for 14-0.

Aki was fortunate not to be sin-binned for a shoulder charge on England wing Elliot Daly, which began an England siege.

England repeated three times only to be stopped by Ireland, during which flanker Peter O'Mahony was sin-binned for repeated fouls. On the fourth attempt, England overthrew the lineout to Murray and Ireland cleared.

England finally finished a move when Daly raced to a Farrell grubber kick to the in-goal, but it came at the expense of Watson, who left with an injured left ankle.

England errors undermined further attempts to take advantage of the extra man, and when O'Mahony returned, Ireland went through the phases in injury time. Murray released Stockdale with barely room to breathe on the left touchline but he chipped, kneed the ball on, and dived on it before it rolled out the back.

Again, Skeen missed Stockdale brushing the ball with his left hand before he kneed it, but the try was given, Stockdale's Irish-record seventh in this championship, one short of the overall record last set in 1925.

An England side marked by seven changes wasn't expected to rattle the settled and confident Irish, and it took the 16-point deficit to kick the home side into gear.

Wing Jonny May was denied twice in the opening minutes. Captain Dylan Hartley was brought off in the 58th, and two minutes later his replacement Jamie George conceded the penalty which Murray nailed for 24-5.

Daly scored his second try from a Mike Brown offload, Brown missed a late try when he stepped out before the corner flag, then May scored in injury time, soon after his counterpart Keith Earls limped off.

Scotland beats Italy

In Rome, Scotland narrowly avoided a nightmare end to its Six Nations campaign Saturday, beating Italy 29-27 with a Greig Laidlaw penalty a minute from time after trailing the perennial wooden-spooners for most of the game.

Scotland scored four tries before snatching victory from the distraught Italians but the result could well have gone the other way, with an expectant home crowd of 60,000 on the verge of celebrating a first Six Nations victory in three years. — Agencies


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