England banished their demons with a 42-6 success over Ireland in Dublin to claim their first Grand Slam since 1995.
On the final day of the 2003 Championship, Jonny Wilkinson added 15 points as England scored five tries to secure a memorable triumph just a few months before the Rugby World Cup in Australia. Setting the scene
England had won two of the previous three Championships having only been defeated by eventual Grand Slam winners France in 2002. It had been 18 years since Ireland emerged a Championship victorious, and not since their maiden Grand Slam in 1948 had the country secured a clean sweep. Their hopes of another in 2003 were saved by an injury-time drop goal from replacement Ronan O’Gara against Wales in round four. England meanwhile had run in 13 tries on their unbeaten run but had lost their final game in 2000 and 2001 to be denied Grand Slams and were looking to change habits. How the action unfolded
Ireland took an early lead when Keith Gleeson intercepted a wayward lineout throw and after two passages of play, David Humphreys kicked a drop goal.
The visitors responded in the ninth minute and went ahead after some excellent work at the scrum that saw Peter Stringer miss the pickup, with Matt Dawson capitalising and Lawrence Dallaglio scored beneath the posts. On 27 minutes, England were penalised at a scrum and Humphreys, who missed a penalty ten minutes earlier, kicked over from 40 metres to make it 7-6. A Wilkinson drop goal just a minute later extended England’s lead to four points, and the fly-half kicked his second goal on the brink of half time to take a 13-6 lead. England eventually added to their advantage on the hour when Will Greenwood created space for Mike Tindall who sped past the Ireland defence to dot down.
Greenwood would get his own score though on 65 minutes when he bundled over amid some weak tackling by the hosts. In added time, Geordan Murphy’s no-look pass was intercepted by Greenwood who had no competition in running in his second try. And the win was completed with a beautiful move by England, getting the ball quickly from left to right with Dan Luger finishing the move, and Wilkinson’s conversion wrapping up a memorable win.
What they said
England head coach Clive Woodward said: “We have put a lot of pressure on ourselves all week. “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 head coach Eddie O’Sullivan said: “A couple of breaks went against us at crucial times but the best team won. We were very competitive for phases of the game but a match can turn on small things. “They gave it everything but England were too good on the day. We played very well in the first half but we needed a score before half-time. “They strangled us out of the game in the second half. Their pack controlled the game and we couldn’t get the ball.”
England try-scorer Lawrence Dallaglio said: “It’s been a long time coming. We have let a few people down in the past. “I think we have stuttered and spluttered a bit in this Championship, but we have finished with our best performance of the season. Two years ago, I was up in the stands, so it’s nice to be part of this.” What happened next
Ireland eventually ended their period without a Championship in 2009, when they also claimed their first Grand Slam in 61 years. It took England until 2008 to beat Ireland again and they went without a Championship title until 2011, where they lost in Dublin to be denied another Grand Slam. They would, however, go on to win the Rugby World Cup in Australia later in 2003, with Ireland defeated by France in the quarter-finals.