England’s grand slam hopes suffer battering

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England’s grand slam dream is over after Ireland shattered their hopes in convincing fashion at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Declan Kidney’s men dominated from start to finish as Martin Johnson’s side failed to live up to the pre-match billing in their search for a first Six Nations clean sweep in eight years.

They should still win the tournament, barring a near-30-point victory for Wales in France later this evening.

But after winning their first four matches, Johnson’s young guns were expected to prevail in Dublin and continue building their head of steam towards the World Cup in New Zealand later this year.

That proved well beyond them, though, as Jonathan Sexton controlled the first half.

The Leinster fly-half kicked four penalties and set up the opening try for Tommy Bowe with a quick-tap penalty.

England, for whom all departments malfunctioned, had only a Toby Flood penalty to show for their first-half efforts.

They began the second half with 14 men, with scrum-half Ben Youngs in the sin-bin for indiscipline after Ben Foden had prevented David Wallace from putting the game out of sight before the break.

The green shirts managed to achieve that seven minutes into the second half, when Brian O’Driscoll picked up a loose ball and dove over in the corner after England’s doughty defence had been undermined by a poor lineout from Dylan Hartley. Sexton added the extras.

There was brief respite for England when Leeds Carnegie hooker Steve Thompson intercepted Eoin Reddan’s pass moments after coming onto the field, and running in a try from 35 metres.

But when the reliable Jonny Wilkinson missed the conversion, England’s day was summed up.

Ireland had built a 17-3 half-time lead thanks to the sure-fire kicking of fly-half Jonathan Sexton - who has four penalties - and a try from Tommy Bowe, who was set up the quick thinking of Sexton.

England were second-best in every department and were lucky not to be further behind following a disallowed try for Brian O’Driscoll and but for a brilliant challenge on David Wallace by Ben Foden.

That resulted in a sin-binning for scrum-half Ben Youngs and Martin Johnson’s men will start the second half with only 14 men.

After winning their first four games, England came into Dublin looking to complete a first Six Nations slam for eight years.

But, with only a Toby Flood penalty to show for their surprisingly poor efforts so far, they have a mountain to climb in the final 40 minutes if they are to achieve their goal.