Ireland 32 England 18
IRELAND produced their finest performance in three years to completely outplay England in the final round of the Six Nations at the Aviva Stadium and finish the campaign on a high.
England captain Owen Farrell opened the scoring with a ninth-minute penalty after England lock Maro Itoje had engineered the field position with an impressive steal on the deck, but Ireland’s own captain Jonathan Sexton levelled affairs with a penalty of his own in the 17th minute after a brilliant tackle on Elliott Daly by Irish centre Robbie Henshaw.
Rob Herring threw long to the tail to his number eight Jack Conan, who jumped, caught and popped to his right-winger Keith Earls, who had run a fantastic inside support line.
Earls had acres of space in front of him to carve through the England defence, and he was able to step England’s Johnny May to score in the right corner for his 34th, and probably his finest, try for Ireland.
England responded quickly1 to the setback, with Farrell notching another penalty in the 26th minute to narrow the gap to 10-6, but a combination of Tadhg Beirne’s tenacity and Tadhg Furlong’s scrummaging prowess presented Sexton with another kicking opportunity in the 29th minute, which he duly accepted, to restore Ireland’s seven-point lead.
If Earls’ try was a brilliant individual effort then their second one in the 37th minute was one of the finest team tries ever scored by Ireland. Ireland showed amazing control and patience, going from touchline to touchline and kept the England defence scrambling.
Highlights included a brilliant offload from Furlong, a sublime catch in the air from full-back Hugo Keenan, and a snipe from Jacob Stockdale, and it ended with a quality finish from Jack Conan, who steamrolled right over the would-be England defender to score from close range, to ensure that Ireland deservedly led 20-6 at the break.
Unfortunately, Ireland had another brilliant Earls try chalked off in the 47th minute, due to an earlier knock-on from Cian Healy in the move, but at least Ireland were able to claim three points from the boot of Sexton, as Ireland had been playing with a penalty advantage.
Despite their best efforts England could not get going. They replaced George Ford, moving Owen Farrell into the out-half position, and almost immediately Farrell came out second best while attempting to tackle Iain Henderson, and had to leave the pitch for a HIA, leaving replacement scrum-half Dan Robson to play fly-half for England.
The Ireland scrum then destroyed their English counterparts allowing Sexton to keep the scoreboard ticking over with yet another penalty in the 61st minute.
Ireland centre Bundee Aki then received a straight red card for a high tackle on England number eight Billy Vunipola in the 63rd minute, and a minute later scrum-half Ben Youngs scored in the right corner off the back of a maul to give England hope.
Sexton added further three-pointers in the 68th and 73rd minutes to ensure there was to be no late England charge.
England did finish on the front foot, forcing a number of late Irish penalties in their own 22, with Conor Murray eventually being brandished a yellow card.
From the resultant attacking play Dan Robson was able to play a huge looping pass out wide to Johnny May, who was able to evade Hugo Keenan’s despairing tackle to score a consolation score for Eddie Jones’ side.
Sexton (6 pens, 2 cons), Earls and Conan (1 try each).
Farrell (2 pens), Daly (1 con), Youngs and May (1 try each).
Keenan; Earls, Henshaw, Aki, Stockdale; Sexton (c), Murray; Kilcoyne, Herring, Furlong, Henderson, Beirne, Stander, Van der Flier, Conan.
Healy for Kilcoyne (20), Porter, Baird and O’Mahony for Furlong, Henderson and Van der Flier (64), Kelleher for Herring (70), Larmour for Stockdale (77), Byrne for Henshaw (79).
Daly; Watson, Lawrence, Farrell (Capt), May; Ford, Youngs; M. Vunipola, Cowan-Dickie, Sinckler, Itoje, Ewels, Wilson, Curry, B. Vunipola.
George and Genge for Cowan-Dickie and M. Vunipola (41), Earl and Marchant for Wilson and Ford (51), Hill and Robson for Ewels and Farrell (55), Martin for B. Vunipola (64) Stuart for Sinckler (66).
Mathieu Raynal (FFR).