England made it three wins out of three in the Six Nations after coming out on top of their tussle with Ireland at Twickenham with a 21-10 victory.
Two quick tries from Anthony Watson and Mike Brown turned the game in England’s favour after Conor Murray had put Ireland ahead following a low-scoring first half.
Prior to that England had failed to convert long periods of pressure into points and looked on the brink of paying for that neglect. But their composure shone through, cancelling out the threat of an Irish revival, despite England’s physicality sometimes crossing the line and them requiring more than one case of last-ditch defending.
Two yellow cards and a hatful of penalties will also have frustrated Eddie Jones, but he was unsurprisingly all smiles come the final whistle after winning his first home game in charge of his adopted country. His side did however leave points out on the field.
England’s 21-10 lead came under real pressure from Ireland in the final quarter but the visitors couldn’t find a breakthrough, as the defending champions’ title bid slipped away.
Too often Ireland laboured at the lineout and their handling lacked the usual polish. Despite that Joe Schmidt will have been pleased with an exuberant debut from centre Stuart McCloskey with his collection of impressive carries, along with the good work of two other new caps in Josh van der Flier and Ultan Dillane.
Steve Hansen, the All Blacks head coach watching on in the stands, realistically however won’t have been shuffling in his seat after what he saw on the flight back to New Zealand by what he saw from either side.
Jonathan Sexton struck first, turning a penalty win for Ireland at the scrum into a 3-0 lead from 40 metres out, Farrell’s response coming not long after to level the scores – redemption after he had been penalised for a neck roll.
Indiscipline was becoming a problem for England – coughing up field position in Irish territory, on another occasion allowing them to kick to the corner – so it came against the run of play when Robbie Henshaw was penalised for obstruction well within Farrell’s range. Farrell though couldn’t make him pay, his effort grazing the right post.
Ireland’s breakdown work helped them clear their lines but they were struggling to contain the runs of Billy Vunipola. One blindside break from the number eight took multiple tacklers to bundle him into touch short of the line.
With all of the momentum England’s captain Dylan Hartley thought he had done enough to cross the line under the posts, only to be denied by the TMO for double movement.
Having nothing to show from such a long passage in Ireland’s 22 would have been unacceptable but England had to take that on the chin, potential try-scoring chances wiped out by the odd loose pass or rash decision.
Frankly, the skills levels were poor. At the same time Ireland’s defence deserved huge credit for weathering the storm.
Smart defence was followed by a clueless attack which set Devin Toner up to be turned over – Farrell’s resulting penalty moving England ahead for the first time at 6-3.
Ireland’s need for some kind of spark was answered by Henshaw, an angling run promising more than it delivered ahead of half-time.
Boldly the visitors opted against letting Sexton attempt a kickable penalty after the break, initially failing to convert after going to the corner.
Back they came however after James Haskell’s yellow card for a high tackle on Murray, with the Irish scrum-half then darting under the attempted cover tackle of Joe Marler to score. Ireland’s gutsy call had paid off, Sexton converting for a 10-6 lead.
Farrell chipped back following an obstruction penalty on Toner to cut the gap to a point, and with handling errors stopping Ireland at source, England finally capitalised.
Jack Nowell’s break up the right touchline had the defence back-tracking before an Irish arm colliding with a pass looked to have ended the attack. The ball instead favourably bounced for Chris Robshaw, whose looping pass found a waiting Anthony Watson ready to finish in the corner.
England’s second try wasn’t far behind as Farrell’s pass gave Mike Brown enough space to race over, two scores in four minutes, as the game threatened to get away from Ireland.
Another Henshaw break silenced that prospect, with only a superb try-saving tackle from Nowell dislodging the ball as the Irish centre dove for the line, preventing a certain score.
Ireland threatened again after a one-two pass from two of the debutants, Van der Flier and Dillane, was illegally stopped short of the line.
What followed was bizarre – with Romain Poite first showing a yellow card to Brown for what looked like reckless use of the boot on Murray, ruled accidental, before consulting with his assistants and instead sin-binning Danny Care for not rolling away.
Van der Flier’s impressive second-half continued when he was held up over the line by new England cap Elliot Daly, as Ireland prowled the whitewash, only for a penalty win at the scrum by Dan Cole easing the hosts’ nerves and ultimately confirming their third win of the tournament.
Man of the Match: Once again the carrying of Billy Vunipola was pivotal for England, constantly luring in Irish defenders before throwing them off his sizeable frame.
Moment of the Match: England could have wondered if this would be their day as another attack threatened to stall, but Anthony Watson’s try put them on track.
Villain of the Match: Despite being ruled accidental by the officials Mike Brown should expect a citing for some loose footwork on Conor Murray.
Tries: Watson, Brown
Pens: Farrell 3
Yellow Cards: Haskell, Care
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Danny Care, 22 Elliot Daly, 23 Alex Goode
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Nathan White, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Simon Zebo
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)