Dublin (AP) — The Irish are the real record-breakers.
England came to Dublin poised to make history on two fronts on Saturday. But another Six Nations Grand Slam and a 19th straight win were denied from the English by Ireland, who capped a disappointing campaign with a dogged 13-9 victory in the rain.
For the second time this season, Ireland stopped the tier one record for consecutive victories on 18. First against the top-ranked All Blacks in Chicago four months ago, then against second-ranked England.
England limited their celebrations last weekend when they retained the Six Nations title. The players wanted the first back-to-back Grand Slams in 19 years. Instead, they received their championship trophy with subdued smiles.
“It would have been great to be Grand Slam champions and world record holders, but it wasn’t our day,” England coach Eddie Jones said.
Jones said the team’s first loss on his watch showed England still needed to build their physical and mental toughness in the run-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
England’s ambitions came undone in front of a roaring 54,000-strong crowd that helped to fire Ireland’s swarming defence on a rainy St. Patrick’s holiday weekend. The win kept Ireland unbeaten at home since 2013 in Six Nations play.
The English, averaging four tries a match, failed to score one in Dublin and struggled even to cross Ireland’s 22-meter line. Three penalty kicks by Owen Farrell accounted for all of England’s points.
Ireland dominated first-half play, overpowering England at the breakdown and mounting raids down the right wing led by fullback Jared Payne in his first test start since November.
The Irish led 10-3 after lock Iain Henderson broke from a maul and dove across the line to score the only try.
But that seven-point advantage looked precarious as England emerged more determined in the second half and seized control of possession, forcing the Irish into collapsed scrums and sloppy penalties. England had already achieved two second-half comebacks versus France and Wales and appeared poised to do the same again.
But England kept spilling the ball at critical moments, hampered by worsening conditions as the evening drizzle turned to a bone-chilling downpour.
“Full credit must go to Ireland for putting us under incredible pressure today, but the wet conditions meant it was probably better not to have the ball,” England captain Dylan Hartley said.
Peter O’Mahony started at blindslide flanker for Ireland at the last minute for Jamie Heaslip, who injured his hamstring in the warm-up. O’Mahony was man of the match, reflecting his dominance in the lineouts. He stole two from England and disrupted at least two others. Ireland won all but one of their 14 lineouts, a key difference-maker in a tightly balanced second half.
Farrell was a perfect 3-for-3 from the tee, including a 45-meter strike that pulled England within 10-6 in the 51st minute.
Irish flyhalf Jonathan Sexton once again bore the brunt of the opponents’ defensive focus, suffering at least three late hits — and rising each time to gain possession and critical points. Like Farrell, he hit all three of his kicks, including a 46-meter shot in the 62nd for Ireland’s final points.
The win lifted Ireland to second in the final Six Nations table, still a letdown after a season in which they were touted as the favorite to oust England as champions.
Ireland defeated all three southern hemisphere powers last year, recording their first victory over the All Blacks in 111 years.
But the Irish fell at Scotland and Wales, the latter ending their championship hopes last weekend. A loss on Saturday to England would have meant Ireland’s first whitewash by all three British sides for the first time since 1998.
Schmidt said Ireland came “within a whisker” of losing to England, and must respect England’s squad depth and achievements. He expected England — “Unfortunately for us!” — to keep improving in 2017.
“What an incredible record: 18 consecutive test match victories. It’s hard enough to get one,” Schmidt said. “At the end of the day, we’re envious that they were out there in the middle of the pitch with the silverware.”