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Irish Grand Slam gone as Smith wins it late for England

Ireland saw their Grand Slam dream denied in Twickenham as England’s Marcus Smith scored a drop goal in the last play of the game to claim a thrilling Guinness Six Nations win.

Heavy underdogs coming into the game, Steve Borthwick’s side deservedly ended Ireland’s 11-game unbeaten run in the championship with a 23-22 victory.

It was a game that Andy Farrell’s side, although they led at half-time and for most of the second half, never had full control of.

They coughed up eight penalties and handed over possession at the lineout too many times as England broke a four-game losing streak against Ireland.

The 6:2 bench split gamble, on this occasion, didn’t come off, with Calvin Nash and replacement Ciarán Frawley both failing HIAs and Ireland had to move scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park to the wing.

Out-half Jack Crowley kicked four first-half penalties to give Ireland a 12-8 lead and James Lowe’s brace of second-half tries looked to have given the defending champions the victory.

After staying in touch with tries from George Furbank and Ben Earl, the hosts were within two points as the clock ran down.

Ireland knew that due to Scotland’s loss in Italy earlier a win would have clinched the title but England worked their way deep into the 22 and replacement Smith snapped over a drop goal to break Irish hearts.

It was Ireland’s first defeat in the championship since 2022 but they can still go back-to-back with victory over the Scots, who come to Dublin next Saturday.

The first half played out nothing like predicted. England were first out of the blocks and settled into a rhythm sooner than the visitors.

Although Crowley had given Ireland an early lead with a straightforward penalty after Ellis Genge went offside, England struck the first big blow.

Lowe failed to find touch and George Furbank sped across the field before shipping the ball to Tommy Freeman with Nash clashing awkwardly with the winger, before going off for a head injury assessment that he failed.

England moved it wide quickly and Ollie Lawrence brushed aside a weak challenge by Crowley to earn a run-in for the opening try in the fourth minute.

George Ford couldn’t convert from the sideline and Ireland had to go to their bench sooner that they wanted. Ciarán Frawley replaced Nash (below) and went to full-back with fit-again Hugo Keenan switching to the wing.

Ireland replied with Bundee Aki and Dan Sheehan making ground but the move ended when the hooker flipped a pass forward.

From the resulting scrum, England won a penalty and it didn’t bode well. Ireland had conceded five penalties off the scrum in this fixture two years ago.

Down the other end, Josh van der Flier came up with a big turnover to relieve some pressure but a fumble from Peter O’Mahony at the lineout let England back in with Alex Mitchell’s fumble close to the line letting Ireland off again.

Earl and Jamie George were causing plenty of problems with ball in hand and after the Saracens duo combined, Aki failed to roll away and Ford kicked England into a 8-3 lead in the 17th minute.

Crowley reduced the deficit when Lawrence went offside at the breakdown minutes later but Aki ran into touch from the restart before Caelan Doris was penalised at a ruck.

England looked destined to score but Tadhg Beirne pinched the ball at the back of the ruck. Borthwick’s side came again and were unlucky to see Lawrence’s touchdown ruled out for a knock on in the build-up.

Ireland couldn’t get a foothold but Ford missed a kickable penalty after Aki again went offside.

The centre then made amends by winning a jackal penalty just inside the England half and Crowley struck it perfectly to put the defending champions ahead.

Ireland, despite operating below par, and with 34% first-half territory, struck the last score of the half after Furbank put a foot in touch from a Lowe kick before Ford went offside under the posts. Crowley tapped over to end a frantic first 40 minutes.

The sides traded blow for blow after the restart.

Keenan took a brilliant high ball before Crowley’s delayed pass sent Doris through the English line.

From there it was a matter of hands and Aki, Robbie Henshaw and Frawley worked it to Lowe, who dived in at the corner.

Then it was England’s turn and Sam Underhill and Maro Itoje played in Furbank (above) after Lowe got caught in no man’s land.

Neither try was converted and Ireland led 17-13 in the 48th minute.

Meanwhile, Frawley himself failed another head injury assessment meaning Ireland had to play the remaining half an hour with Gibson-Park on the wing, with Conor Murray replacing the Leinster man.

It was the scenario Ireland had hoped wouldn’t occur.

It was to get worse.

O’Mahony (above) was sinbinned for diving over a ruck and two minutes later Earl barged over after England played through a couple of penalty advantage phases. Ford’s conversion gave the hosts a three-point lead and Twickenham erupted.

Farrell sent on Jack Conan, Rónan Kelleher and Finlay Bealham a lineout maul in the England 22 came to nought and then Itoje’s tackle forced a fumble by Gibson-Park with Keenan poised to strike.

Iain Henderson then got isolated with Earl picking up the jackal penalty before moments later winning one back.

That led to the lineout from which Ireland earned a penalty advantage and the ball was spun wide to Lowe (below) for his second, pushing Smith out of his way before dotting down.

The conversion was again missed but Ireland led by two with six minutes left.

When Henderson got caught at the bottom of a ruck England had a penalty inside their won half but Elliot Daly’s kick went wide.

But England weren’t done yet. First Smith’s break had Ireland scrambling before he combined with Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and Ireland went offside in the scramble.

They kept hold of the ball and playing a penalty advantage with the clock in red Smith dropped over a goal and Ireland’s Grand Slam dream was dead in the water.


England: George Furbank; Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Henry Slade, Ollie Lawrence, Tommy Freeman; George Ford, Alex Mitchell; Ellis Genge, Jamie George (capt), Dan Cole; Maro Itoje, George Martin; Ollie Chessum, Sam Underhill, Ben Earl.

Replacements: Theo Dan, Joe Marler, Will Stuart, Chandler Cunningham-South, Alex Dombrandt, Danny Care, Marcus Smith, Elliot Daly.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Calvin Nash, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Jack Crowley, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Joe McCarthy, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Ciarán Frawley.

Referee: Nika Amashukeli (GRU)


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