George Ford, Elliot Daly and Luke Cowan-Dickie scored tries as England forced their way back into the 2020 Six Nations title race with a resounding 24-12 win over an error-plagued Ireland on Sunday.
Monumental individual mistakes from Ireland pair Johnny Sexton and Jacob Stockdale saw England race out to a 17-0 advantage at Twickenham, while a general malaise from Andy Farrell’s men in green never rendered a comeback likely.
England skipper Owen Farrell was 100 per cent off the kicking tee as he added a penalty and three conversions in the morale-boosting victory.
Robbie Henshaw and Andrew Porter scored Ireland’s tries, the latter with the very final play, while Sexton missed both his kicks at goal in a blunder-filled display which ended the visitors’ Grand Slam hopes.
England next host Wales at Twickenham in two weeks’ time on Saturday March 7, before travelling to face Italy in Rome on the Championship’s final day. Ireland host the Azzurri in a fortnight, before concluding their campaign at unbeaten France.
England confidently claimed the first two high balls in the contest, and it was a sign of things to come in a first half completely dominated by the men in white.
Having owned the ball for the early periods, a Courtney Lawes knock on near the try-line saw a good chance evaporate, but the home side would score the opening try in the ninth minute after an aberration in defence by Sexton.
England scrum-half Ben Youngs sent through a grubber-kick, seeking the chasing Owen Farrell, but despite the fact Sexton got to the ball first, he failed to keep hold of it in-goal, allowing Ford in to score a gift of a try.
Ireland responded with their first spell of play in the England 22, forcing two penalties when Lawes entered a maul from the side and then George Kruis failed to roll. Ireland skipper Sexton chose to kick the latter from just outside the 22 but hooked the simple effort horribly.
The errors continued to come from Ireland as tighthead Tadhg Furlong collapsed a scrum on Irish put-in, putting the visitors under pressure again, and on 25 minutes another self-destructive individual error handed England a second soft try.
Again it’s origin came via a kick ahead as Ford chipped on intelligently, but Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale looked the clear favourite to ground the ball. The Ulsterman was far too casual, however, and England full-back Daly showed no such lethargy as he sprinted on and grounded just before the dead-ball line.
Ireland lost starting loosehead Cian Healy to injury in the same passage, and barely stepped inside the England third of the pitch for the remainder of the opening period as the hosts continued to dictate terms.
Indeed, it was England who would score next as a minute from the break, James Ryan was caught offside and Owen Farrell struck over from close-range off the tee, leaving things a daunting 17-0 at the interval.
A scrum penalty got Ireland into the second half early in terms of territory, but a consequent rolling maul came to nothing when England fought to make the ball unplayable. Ireland remained in the England 22 when Owen Farrell gave away a penalty for an off the ball incident on CJ Stander though, and the visitors would take this chance.
A high tackle by England prop Kyle Sinckler under the posts saw Ireland turn down a shot at goal for a five-metre attacking scrum, and it proved that right call when Henshaw showed tremendous leg-drive to dive over and score after 50 minutes. Sexton’s conversion was another poor effort with the boot though, hooking wide and left again.
Ireland’s entrance to the contest was short-lived, however, as England were soon camped in the opposite 22 again, before a series of penalties eventually gave way to a Cowan-Dickie try, breaking off a rolling maul, swivelling and grounding.
That score concluded the Test as a contest, with the final say falling to Ireland replacement Porter as he dipped and stretched to score past the 80th-minute mark, after a late flurry of phases, with replacement John Cooney adding the extras after taking over kicking duties from Sexton.
As poor as Ireland’s start to the Test was and as inexcusable as the errors were which led to the tries, England were very sharp.
Line-breaks were in short supply – in fact there were the fewest between two sides in a Six Nations game for over two years – but England were ruthless in exploiting Irish weaknesses and compounding mistakes. The tight-five were exceptional as they gelled to strangle Ireland out of the game.
5 – There were just five clean breaks made in #ENGvIRE (England 3, Ireland 2), the fewest in any Six Nations game since the opening round of the 2018 edition when there were just two in the fixture between France and Ireland. Wall. pic.twitter.com/rlA9i4uq48
Intensely physical, the return of Manu Tuilagi was a huge plus as he constantly made yardage with ball in hand and set down a marker in contact. The re-introduction of man of the match Courtney Lawes also proved significant – the loss of Billy Vunipola wasn’t so keenly felt with Lawes on this sort of form.
And lastly, a word of praise for the referee and his TMO. The communication between Jaco Peyper and compatriot Marius Jonker throughout the Test – often on the run and during general play – was first class and at a level not often witnessed.
Opening Championship victories over Scotland and Wales in Dublin under Andy Farrell had given Irish supporters tentative hope, but the first 15 minutes on Sunday abruptly put paid to that.
Victories at Twickenham in this competition are extremely difficult to come by – away sides have won here just seven times in two decades of Six Nations history – but when you make the sort of accumulative mishaps Ireland did in the first half, it makes things near enough impossible.
Sexton’s juggle and spillage to allow Ford in was compounded when he lashed wide a penalty effort from directly in front of the posts five minutes later to bewildered cheers of surprise at the home of English rugby. In many ways, such a miss was even more damaging than the opening try.
It set in motion a series of negative thoughts to filter throughout the Ireland team, and self-doubt then translated to self-combustion when Stockdale unforgivably dallied and sauntered within his own in-goal and allowed Daly in. From there, there was no way back.
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