Classic Match: England seal 2003 Grand Slam in Dublin

Jonny Wilkinson 30/3/2003
It was winner-takes-all in the final match of the 2003 Championship, as Ireland faced off against England at Lansdowne Road, with both teams aiming to complete the Grand Slam.

It was winner-takes-all in the final match of the 2003 Championship, as Ireland faced off against England at Lansdowne Road, with both teams aiming to complete the Grand Slam.

This was the fourth time in five years that England were trying to clear the final hurdle, having fallen against Wales at Wembley in 1999, Scotland at BT Murrayfield in 2000 and Ireland on their last visit to Dublin in 2001.

After a tense first half, they were unstoppable in the second, with centre Will Greenwood helping himself to two of their five tries in a 42-6 victory that exorcised the demons of recent seasons.

And ahead of their meeting in Round 4 of the 2022 Championship, which will decide who is best placed to challenge France for the title, here’s a look back a one of the most memorable England v Ireland encounters.

Setting the scene

Ireland were one game away from their first Grand Slam since 1948 – and just the second in the history – after the most dramatic of finishes against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Round Four.

With the match in injury time, Stephen Jones’ drop goal looked to have condemned them to defeat in Cardiff, but Ronan O’Gara sent over one of his own 30 seconds after the restart to snatch a 25-24 victory.

England had begun the tournament by grinding out victories, but their 40-9 win over Scotland at Twickenham the previous week had been their most impressive performance so far.

The teams

Despite Ronan O’Gara’s heroics against Wales, Ulster’s David Humphreys was preferred at fly-half by Ireland head coach Eddie O’Sullivan, who made two changes.

These both came in the pack, as Gary Longwell replaced Leo Cullen in the second row and Victor Costello came in for Alan Quinlan at blindside flanker, while Brian O’Driscoll was captain in the absence of Keith Wood.

England head coach Clive Woodward had built one of the strongest teams in world rugby in recent years, with Martin Johnson captaining a side that had won its last ten matches.

Jonny Wilkinson pulled the strings from fly-half, while the only changes came on the bench, with Dorian West and Kyran Bracken replacing Mark Regan and Andy Gomarsall.

How the action unfolded

Ireland were quickest out of the blocks, with David Humphreys missing an early penalty attempt, but he did claim the game’s first points with a smartly-taken drop goal after five minutes.

England’s response was swift, however, as Richard Hill pressured Peter Stringer into a mistake off an Irish scrum, allowing Matt Dawson to break clear before sending Lawrence Dallaglio under the posts.

Jonny Wilkinson converted to give the visitors a 7-3 lead, which Humphreys couldn’t close following a missed penalty, but the hosts were threatening through Geordan Murphy and O’Driscoll.

Humphreys was then successful with his latest penalty to reduce the gap to one point before Wilkinson cancelled this out with a drop goal off his weaker right foot on the half-hour.

The 23-year-old repeated the trick on the stroke of half-time to send England in 13-6 ahead, but their talisman had to be temporarily replaced after a blow to his shoulder in the 54th minute.

While he was off, the visitors went further clear after a brilliant move involving Wilkinson’s replacement Paul Grayson and Will Greenwood led to Mike Tindall cutting through the middle to score.

The match was then effectively finished as a contest with 15 minutes left, as Greenwood was bundled over the line with the help of several forwards before Wilkinson landed a penalty to make the closing stages academic.

But England were ruthless as Greenwood intercepted Murphy’s pass to score his second, and the visitors put the seal on a comprehensive second-half display with a fifth try in stoppage time.

Wilkinson started the move with a wonderful piece of handling to find Jason Leonard, who passed to Josh Lewsey before replacement Dan Luger went over down the right wing.

A 12th Grand Slam was in the bag for England, who were to land an even bigger prize eight months later…

What they said

Ireland head coach Eddie O’Sullivan: “We played very well in the first half but we needed a score before half-time. We threw everything but the kitchen sink at them but instead they hit us with a drop goal.

“They strangled us out of the game in the second half. Their pack controlled the game and we couldn’t get the ball”.

England head coach Clive Woodward: “I can’t say how good these guys are. They are the toughest guys I have ever worked with, physically and mentally

“I was confident we were going to win, if we held on to the ball. Ireland are a good team but I am delighted with the outcome. The players deserve this big time. I’m lucky to be leading them.”

Ireland 6 England 42 Lansdowne Road March 30 2003

Ireland:  Murphy, Bishop, O’Driscoll (capt), Maggs, Hickie, Humphreys, Stringer, Horan, Byrne, Hayes, O’Kelly, Longwell, Costello, Gleeson, Foley Replacements: Sheahan, Fitzpatrick, O’Connell, Quinlan, G Easterby, O’Gara, Dempsey

England: Lewsey, Robinson, Greenwood, Tindall, Cohen, Wilkinson, Dawson, Rowntree, Thompson, Leonard, Johnson (capt), Kay, Hill, Back, Dallaglio Replacements: West, Woodman, Grewcock, Worsley, Bracken, Grayson, Luger

Attendance: 47,000 Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)