In Dublin in the match that closes and decides the Tournament great suffering in the first half, then Steward’s red light shifts the balance: Sheehan’s brace and Henshaw’s try. France overwhelms Wales 41-28 but that’s not enough
With quite a bit of effort and with some heartaches too many compared to what everyone expected, Ireland however completed its mission, defeating England 29-16 in Dublin and conquered for the sixteenth time the Six Nations. The last title was dated 2018, it is the fifth since the Six Nations era, for the fourth time including a Grand Slam. And for the thirteenth time the Triple Crown also arrives, thanks to the victories over the other three Britons. Coach Andy Farrell’s team finishes with 27 points in the standings (+3 bonus for the Grand Slam). Second place with 20 points goes to defending champion France, who had defeated Wales 41-28 in Paris in the previous match. Then Scotland third with 15, followed by England (10), Wales (5) and Italy (1).
In the match that has to decide everything, England is the better off to start, called to redeem the humiliation suffered by France a week ago in Twickenham: after a couple of stolen balls in the ruck and constant possession, Owen’s goal is the reward Farrell in the 9th minute. The pressure for the result is playing tricks on the Irish: first Jonathan Sexton tries to surprise the defense by taking a quick free-kick but fails to dunk and sends his team-mates offside, then Hugo Keenan misses a midfield control and finally Mack Hansen sends a free kick wide but right on the line of the defensive 22. The result is an attack that allows the English to win the free-kick with which Farrell signs the 6-0. But at the first mistake even the English are punished: incorrect entry by Lewis Ludlamn ruck, free kick from about thirty meters in front of the posts for Sexton’s 3-6, who thus, in his last match in the Six Nations, becomes the most prolific in the history of the Tournament with 560 points, definitively detaching his compatriot and predecessor in the number 10 jersey Ronan O’Gara (557). But the music doesn’t change: Sexton himself loses the ball in midfield, Keenan collects it comfortably in the 22, has plenty of time to aim far, but svirgola almost backwards, allowing the English a very deep touche. In the 33rd minute the Irish launch a touchline just inside the offensive 22, the maul keeps possession, but Josh van de Flier comes out immediately with the oval to then serve him unexpectedly inside for Dan Sheehan’s run, the defense is surprise to the hooker can go all the way (Sexton transforms). At the end of the first half a decisive episode: the extremes Freddie Steward and Keenan collide, the Englishman, perhaps involuntarily but with an evidently inaccurate posture, hits the Irishman’s head with his elbow for the inevitable red card. In the 51st minute England returned to within 1 with a goal from Farrell, but in the 62nd minute the hosts pulled back: deep attack and great pressure on the English defense forced to defend the goal line, then after yet another pick and go James Gibson-Park changes direction and serves Bundee Ake short to his right, which in turn triggers a breakthrough from Robbie Henshaw. 7 minutes go by and Ireland knocks again in the 22, grinds meters to the right until the offload with which Jack Conan frees Sheehan off the coast, who in wing position flies to dive for the flag. Sexton turns both for a reassuring +15. However, England gave a jolt of pride and in the 73rd minute scored with hooker Jamie George, who first launched the touchline and then finished off the maul’s progress (Farrell converted). A problem in his right thigh forces Sexton to raise the white flag, but the games are over. There was still time for a yellow card for Jack Willis who overturned Ross Byrne in the air and with England 13 up, substitute hooker Rob Herring scored Ireland’s fourth try from the touch-out that ensued with a maul. And Dublin can finally celebrate twice, given that in the previous three Ireland had never closed the Grand Slam on home soil.
In Paris, the start of the game is spectacular. Wales’ first try, capping a long siege, with Rhys Webb propitiating George North’s lunge under the posts. On the other hand, after a monstrous break by Romain Ntamack, comes the incredible 20-metre pass with which Antoine Dupont goes to catch Damian Penaud on the right by himself. Goals converted by Dan Biggar and Thomas Ramos. Between 26′ and 30′ the French full-back puts in two goals, then in the 34′ there is the second try: having reached the left-hand flag, the French are unable to break through, so they reopen and find the superiority on the opposite side, with the last pass from Penaud and the honor of scoring left to Jonathan Danty, who reaches the goal practically unhindered (Ramos converts). Between 44′ and 49′ France scores another two tries and closes it: first Dupont deceives Biggar and frees the gigantic prop Uini Atonio (the first in the national team in cap number 50) in a terrible miss match that overwhelms the winger Louis Rees Zammit, then with Gael Fickou, released in front of the goal line after two beautiful passes from Danty and Ntamack which split the Welsh defense in two. Ramos transforms them both. In the 56th minute, however, Les Bleus exaggerate with a very risky restart from the goal area, they come out but lose the oval, the Welshmen dig a couple of breaks and open up the space for Bradley Roberts to break from close range, the hooker who replaced Ken owens. And in the 66th minute it was Tomos Williams (who replaced Webb) who took the ball after Aaron Wainwright’s attempt to break through and stretched out to sign the third Welsh try. Biggar transforms them both. The French, however, manage to find the thread, close the attack and in the 78th minute they find the fifth try: long assault on the line to the left of the posts, with the road closed, but with the Welsh defense unable to expand again, it is inevitable that by opening wide you find superiority, with a nice offload from Ramos to free Penaud for the brace. Ramos completes his perfect afternoon (7/7) by putting on this transformation as well. However, the last action was Welsh: the ball reached Rio Dyer’s left-footed out just beyond halfway, the winger returned avoiding an excessively soft double tackle and found his way wide open towards the goal, converted by Leigh Halfpenbny for the final 41-28.
March 18 – 8.41pm
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