Last-gasp Smith stars as England shatter Ireland’s Grand Slam dream

England’s Marcus Smith makes a break during the Six Nations international rugby union match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in south-west London, on March 9, 2024. AFP

Marcus Smith’s last-ditch drop-goal saw England end Six Nations champions Ireland’s hope of successive Grand Slams with a dramatic 23-22 win at Twickenham on Saturday.

There were more than 80 minutes on the clock when replacement fly-half Smith, making his first appearance of the tournament, landed the winning kick as England ended a run of four straight defeats by Ireland.

“I have been practising my drop-goals and I thought why not!,” said Smith after what was just Ireland’s second defeat since July 2022 following an agonising World Cup quarter-final loss to New Zealand last year.

Ireland, however, can still retain their title by beating Scotland in Dublin next Saturday.

This defeat ended Ireland’s bid to become the first team in Six Nations history to win consecutive Grand Slams, with France the last team to achieve the feat in the 1997 and 1998 Five Nations.

“We have been very good at winning. We have to be good at losing,” said Ireland coach Andy Farrell.

England were 17-8 behind early in the second half when Ireland wing James Lowe scored the first of his two tries.

But England hit back with tries from George Furbank and Ben Earl to lead 20-17 against an Ireland side reduced to 14 men after captain Peter O’Mahony was sin-binned.

Lowe’s second try, however, edged Ireland two points ahead and, after England replacement Elliot Daly was just off target with a long-range penalty moments after coming on, it seemed the Irish had done enough.

But England, making good on captain Jamie George’s pre-match promise to “defend our home” kept playing and were rewarded with a win in front of a crowd of over 81,000 that revived their title hopes ahead of next week’s concluding match away to France.


England finished third at the World Cup after capitalising on a lopsided draw, but this win was arguably their best peformance since Steve Borthwick’s appointment as head coach in December 2022.

“The team has been progressing,” said Borthwick.

“We are four games into building a new team here. I am delighted for the players and especially the supporters. There will be a lot of people on their sofas and in the pubs happy with themselves.

“When you look at that game the players showed incredible intensity from the first minute to the 80th minute.”

England dominated territory and possession in the first half, with centre Ollie Lawrence scoring the only try of the opening 40 minutes.

Yet Ireland still led 12-8 at half-time thanks to four penalties from fly-half Jack Crowley, who opened the scoring in the third minute.

But barely 60 seconds later, England hit back with a fine try.

Furbank ran the ball across field following a rushed clearance kick by Lowe before Henry Slade released fellow centre Lawrence for a try in the corner that fly-half George Ford could not convert.

Scrum-half Alex Mitchell, returning from injury after missing England’s 30-21 defeat by Scotland last time out, gave the Red Rose attack a much-needed sharper edge.

Lawrence almost had a second try in the 24th minute when he appeared to regather his clever grubber-kick behind Ireland’s defence. But the score was disallowed for a preceding knock-on by Furbank.

The remainder of the points scored in the first half came from penalty kicks, with Ireland 12-8 ahead at the break.

Ireland, making the most of a rare chance, went nine points clear early in the second half when, with Slade out of position, they created an overlap as Lowe dived in at the corner.

Crowley couldn’t convert, but Ireland now led 17-8.

But it took England just four minutes to respond, with good handling from lock Maro Itoje paving the way for Furbank’s try out wide.

Ford was again off target and Ireland were 17-13 ahead.

But soon afterwards flanker O’Mahony was shown a yellow card for diving over the ball and Earl made the man advantage count with England’s third try.

Lowe again went in at the corner in the 73rd minute only for Crowley to make a horrible mess of the conversion in what turned out to be a significant error.

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