Guinness Six Nations
England 24-12 Ireland
England kept their 2020 Six Nations titles hopes alive as a tactical kicking masterclass helped them record an impressive victory over Ireland at Twickenham.
In scenes reminiscent of last year’s match in Dublin, Ireland struggled to deal with England’s kicking from hand – pinpoint nudges helping the hosts win the territory battle, while George Ford and Elliot Daly both capitalised on defensive indecision for two first-half tries.
A dominant opening 40 minutes led to a 17-0 half-time advantage and although Robbie Henshaw crossed for the visitors early in the second period, Luke Cowan-Dickie went over for the hosts to seal the victory, despite Andrew Porter’s late consolation score.
After a Round 1 defeat away to France, England have now won two games in a row and while Les Bleus are still on course for a Grand Slam, Eddie Jones’ men look ready to pounce should they slip up.
Meanwhile, the defeat ends Ireland’s 100 per cent start to the Championship under new coach Andy Farrell, following impressive wins over Scotland and Wales, but they are still well in the title hunt and a Round 5 trip to Paris looms large.
However, a dogged England defence and determined attack laid the platform for a victory that means they have now won nine of the last 12 matches between the sides – including six of the last nine meetings in the Championship.
On the occasion of his 50th cap, and making his first start on the wing, Jonathan Joseph led England out on to the Twickenham turf before his side set about laying down an early marker – Manu Tuilagi making yards through the heart of Ireland’s defence with a couple of powerful carries.
Controlling the territory, England unleashed some expansive rugby to try and unlock the door, Owen Farrell firing long miss-passes to Jamie George out wide and lofting an up-and-under that forced Jordan Larmour to scramble back.
It was that sort of invention that led to the first try on nine minutes as scrum-half Ben Youngs fizzed a grubber kick through the defensive line that the retreating Johnny Sexton bobbled twice, allowing Ford to gleefully dot down.
Ireland finally got a foothold with a spell of play in the home half, yet it ended with Sexton slicing a kickable penalty wide of the left post.
As England again took control midway through the first half, Joseph drifted into his more recognisable centre position and sparked an attack with a mesmerising, jinking run into Irish territory that helped set up a five-metre lineout from which the second try came.
Again, a kick through – this time a chip over the top from Ford – caused havoc in the visiting defence and Daly nipped past a dallying Jacob Stockdale in the in-goal area to dive on the bouncing ball.
Ireland finally began to earn some ball to play with but the home defence was dogged and after a turnover that led England into the 22 when Joseph outsprinted Andrew Conway to get to a kick through, Farrell made it 17-0 just before half-time from an offside penalty.
Ireland started the second half strongly, setting up camp in the England 22 with their first sustained spell of pressure.
Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony went close before the home defence was finally pierced on 50 minutes when Henshaw powered over after numerous phases within five metres of the line, although Sexton again missed the kick.
England soon regained control of the territory and when they won a scrum penalty against the head in Ireland’s 22, a kick to the corner eventually set up Cowan-Dickie to dot down from the back of a driving maul.
Farrell’s conversion increased the lead to 19 points with less than 20 minutes remaining and although Ireland fought to find a way back into the contest, it was only once the clock had ticked into the red that they found success.
After pounding away at the line, replacement front-rower Porter managed to barge his way over from close range to make the final score 24-12 but it was England skipper Farrell who got the better of his father Andy on the day.