Borthwick: England can match Ireland ‘benchmark’ by World Cup

Ireland dispatched 14-man England 29-16 in Dublin to claim their fourth Six Nations Grand Slam, and second in five years. Dan Sheehan crossed twice, with Robbie Henshaw and Rob Herring also going over in a clash where Freddie Steward was sent off for a challenge on Hugo Keenan.

Johnny Sexton ended his Six Nations journey with a tournament-record 559 points, with Ireland cemented as the world’s number one Test team heading into the World Cup in France.

England were at least able to atone for last weekend’s 53-10 record home defeat by France, but remain a long way behind Test rugby’s frontrunners.

Red Rose boss Borthwick hailed counterpart Andy Farrell for taking Ireland to new heights, before insisting England can catch up with their competitors in time for the World Cup.

“I’ve had the privilege to coach alongside Andy with the Lions in 2017, I was also coached by him at Saracens,” said Borthwick.

“You can see he’s an incredible coach, and it’s a team packed full of talent. They are the best in the world and they’ve set a benchmark.

“And we’ve found ourselves short today of where they are. Now it’s our job to go and find a way to get closer to them, and to be able to win games like that.”

Steward’s red card was hotly disputed by an England side nonplussed by referee Jaco Peyper’s decision after the Leicester star’s clash with Keenan.

Steward had clearly tried to minimise his contact by leaning back, only to be critiqued by the officials for being too upright in the collision.

Head coach Borthwick and skipper Owen Farrell took a cautious approach to the sending off, but vice-captain Ellis Genge laid bare England’s frustrations.

“I don’t want anyone to get hit in the head and I certainly don’t want anyone chucking elbows and shoulders, but there was absolutely no malice in what Freddie did, no malice whatsoever,” said Genge.

“He didn’t intend to hurt anyone, he’s actually tried to pull out and not hurt the bloke, so it was a complete and total accident for me, and I don’t think he can be punished like that.

England were left with a mountain to climb after Freddie Steward’s red card

/ PA

“But a red is a red and we just had to deal with it. The referee made his decision, fair play. In a high-pressure game, the ref has to make big calls and he made one.

“You have to make a decision and he would probably get hammered by his superiors if he doesn’t make that decision. There’s a lot of stuff going on about head trauma at the moment, so I get it to a certain extent. For me, it’s not a red but I’m not going to make an excuse because I think we had an opportunity to win.”

Sexton has won everything in rugby barring the World Cup, and Ireland will be out to make history at the global tournament in France.

Head coach Farrell has the Irish embracing the pressure of being the world’s top team like no other iteration of the national side that has gone before them.

And Sexton has already set his sights on the World Cup, even while still celebrating the Grand Slam triumph. Ireland have never before gone beyond the quarter-finals at a World Cup, but Sexton and company have far loftier ideas for France.

“This is a high point, but I hope it’s not the highest point,” said Sexton.

“These moments don’t happen often, this is the fourth time ever. We won a Grand Slam, it’s pinch-yourself stuff. I said during the week it’s the stuff of dreams. Growing up all you want to do is play for Ireland.

“When I was growing up I always wanted to captain Ireland, and this fella (Farrell) asked me to do it. It was probably one of the best days of my life when he did, and this day is even better.

“I said in the dressing room there, this is not the end. There’s plenty more left in this team. We’ve spoken about building towards the World Cup, and this is part of the journey.

“When England won the World Cup in 2003 they had a Grand Slam in the same year, so we need to keep our feet on the ground first of all and keep building.”

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