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Steve Borthwick urges England to match ‘benchmark’ set by Ireland ahead of World Cup

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

Johnny Sexton finished his Six Nations run with a tournament-best 559 points as Ireland became the first Test team in the world to head to the World Cup in France.

England were at least able to atone for last weekend’s record 53-10 home defeat to France, but remain far behind the Test rugby favourites.

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

“I had the privilege of coaching alongside Andy with the Lions in 2017, I was also coached by him at Saracens,” Borthwick said.

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

“And we found ourselves today short of where they are. Now it’s up to us to find a way to get closer to them and be able to win games like that.

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

Steward had clearly tried to minimize his contact by leaning back, only to be criticized by 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 aired England’s frustrations.

“I don’t want anyone getting hit in the head and I certainly don’t want anyone squeezing my elbows and shoulders, but there was absolutely no malice in what Freddie did, no wickedness,” Genge said.

“He didn’t mean to hurt anyone, he actually tried to pull back and not hurt the guy, so it was a complete and total accident for me, and I don’t think he can be punished like this.

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

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“But a red is a red and we just had to deal with it. The referee has made his decision, fair play. In a high pressure game, the referee 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 didn’t make that decision. There’s a lot going on with brain injuries right now, so I understand to some extent. For me it’s not a red but I’m not going to make any excuses because I think we had an opportunity to win.

Sexton has won everything in rugby except the World Cup, and Ireland will be ready to make history at the world tournament in France.

Head coach Farrell is forcing the Irish to accept the pressure of being the best team in the world like no other iteration of the national team that has come before them.

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

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

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

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

“I said in the dressing room there, it’s not the end. There’s still a lot left in this team. We talked about preparing for the World Cup, and that’s part of the journey.

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

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