In the pivotal clash of Autumn Nations Cup Group A, England proved too strong for Ireland after exceptional lineout, breakdown and tackle defence. It was the fourth Test in two years between the sides where England have proven comfortable victors, and third in succession at Twickenham.
A defensive masterclass and Jonny May’s brilliant finishing helped England cruise past an abysmal Ireland 18-7 at Twickenham in the Autumn Nations Cup.
Whether at the lineout, breakdown or in general play, England’s defence was far too strong for Ireland, as it forced errors and turnovers from the visitors time and again.
Wing May notched two tries within the opening period, while skipper Owen Farrell added two penalties and a conversion in the victory, which keeps England top of Group A.
Ireland, who scored a late consolation via Jacob Stockdale, had plenty of visits into the England 22, but their lineout repeatedly malfunctioned, while they were firmly – and critically – second-best at the breakdown and in the contact area.
Kicking proved the order of the day in the opening exchanges as both sides engaged in a tactical battle with the boot. Ireland began promisingly when Keith Earls claimed a high ball, but when well-placed on the cusp of England’s 22, Ross Byrne put in a poor kick from hand into the grasp of Elliot Daly, alleviating all pressure.
The first penalty went England’s way at the ruck on eight minutes, allowing them to enter into Ireland’s half for pretty much the first time, but Ben Youngs quick-tap penalty within their next period of attacking saw them pass up the first opportunity to kick for points.
Back-to-back Ireland errors invited England back into their half soon enough, however, as a Ronan Kelleher crooked lineout throw on halfway, Earls knock on after a tap tackle within his own half and England scrum penalty put Andy Farrell’s charges under enormous pressure.
Another penalty against Ireland – this time at the maul – resulted in an England five-metre lineout, from which the first try of the Test arrived. Though the ball was spilled in the maul, a well-executed Farrell cross-field kick on penalty advantage saw May rise superbly above Hugo Keenan to score on 17 minutes.
A blocking line following the restart on wing James Lowe by England handed Ireland a lineout in the home side’s 22 and a big opening, but a Ronan Kelleher lineout mis-throw would actually result in England’s second score.
England countered from their own 22 through May, who showed great pace to break past centre Chris Farrell, kick on twice, phenomenally outsprint Jamison Gibson-Park (and all others) and dive over just five minutes after his first try.
Ireland continued to prove architects of their own downfall as the half wore on, as three consecutive encouraging attacks within the England 22 resulted in turnovers.
A five-metre Ireland lineout was lost when Maro Itoje got up to expertly steal the ball off James Ryan, before Earls came closest to scoring four minutes later when he darted through to get within inches of the try-line only for Billy Vunipola to then win a huge turnover to quell the Irish attack.
Three minutes later England repeated the trick when Gibson-Park took the wrong decision to snipe when isolated, and Curry got over the ball to win the decision.
Five minutes from the end of the half, Ireland earned a crucial turnover themselves deep within their own half, as Peter O’Mahony managed to fight through an England maul to force the ball unplayable.
Ireland survived a TMO review soon after for a possible Sam Underhill try, when he stripped Gibson-Park on top of the Irish try-line before dotting down, but had done so illegally having played the scrum-half around the neck.
That left the score 12-0 at the break, and though Ireland began the second period on the front-foot, lock Quinn Roux gave away a needless penalty for pulling Curry back off the ball. Farrell duly made no mistake to stretch the England lead out beyond two scores.
Another Farrell penalty on 52 minutes, after Ireland skipper Ryan went off feet at the ruck within his own half, saw the England advantage stretched to an insurmountable 18-0.
Just past the hour mark, Ireland passed up another five-metre lineout opportunity as after a maul drive went to deck, several phases of possession saw England’s resolute defence hold firm, before Itoje produced a priceless breakdown turnover.
With 12 minutes left on the clock, Ireland really should have breached the England try-line when centre Farrell latched onto a Ross Byrne grubber kick on penalty advantage but astonishing defence from opposite number Henry Slade held him up in-goal.
In the next phase of play, Ireland spilled the ball again from a five-metre lineout before replacement Ben Earl won a breakdown penalty.
Replacement Stockdale did finally register Ireland onto the scoreboard late on, with a strong arcing finish after a clever Billy Burns chip in behind.
Perhaps fittingly, the contest concluded following yet another Ireland lineout error – their sixth in total – as replacement Rob Herring overthrew.
England will face Wales in Llanelli next week, while Ireland welcome Georgia to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.