Ireland have wrapped up the Six Nations and added a historic Grand Slam title with a brilliant 24-15 victory over England on St Patrick’s Day.
England slumped to another loss, their third in consecutive fashion, as they were dominated by the Irish from the opening whistle. It was party time at Twickeham as Ireland romped to an easy win, courtesy of three first half tries. For England it was a big embarrassment on home soil and the inquest to their growing form slump widens.
Both sides gave little away in the early stages, each eager to not make a mistake with kicking for territory the priority. But in the fifth minute Anthony Watson spilled a bomb in his in-goal area and Ireland pounced. The video referee ruled that Garry Ringrose had grounded the ball first and the five-pointer was given. Jonny Sexton added the extras and the Irish had a precious 7-0 lead.
Three minutes later and Ireland were penalized for being off their feet. England kicked for touch, rather than for goal, but lost the ball straight after their lineout. The visitors continued to impress, hitting the ball up hard and running dangerous lines.
As snowflakes swirled down Ireland earned another penalty in the 22nd minute. But Sexton’s attempt struck the post and England were spared. But it mattered little as less than a minute later CJ Stander was over. Bundee Aki broke through the middle and found Stander in support to score. The cover defence desperately tried to pull him down but Stander just got over the line. Joe Schmidt’s side were on fire at 14-0 ahead.
Ireland took a hit in the 25th minute when Aki went from hero to villain and was penalised for a shoulder charge on Elliot Daly. Aki was lucky not to be yellow carded. England started to get more into the game, enjoying more field position, but Ireland’s defence held firm. England’s persistence finally paid off nine minutes from half-time. Owen Farrell dinked a perfect grubber in behind and Daly pounced on it.
But Farrell couldn’t convert the try, so the hosts remained nine points in arrears. It got worst with Watson forced off with injury and he was replaced by Mike Brown. England’s indiscipline was costing them once again as they were on the wrong side of a 7-3 penalty count heading into half-time.
Right before the break Jacob Stockdale broke down the left hand corner, chipped over the top and touched down millimetres from the touchline. The video referee confirmed the brilliant solo try. It was a dagger in the heart of Eddie Jones’ men, with Ireland in complete control at the interval 21-5.
The stats confirmed the dominance – Ireland had 62% of the ball and 58% of the territory, while England had missed 10 tackles to their opponents’ three. England needed a miracle in the second half to avoid an embarrassing third defeat in a row.
They started the second spell well, but Ireland’s defence drove them back. England upped their ante but the Irish tackling was tenacious. Again and again a wall of green shirts met every carry. In the 55th minute George Ford came on, with Farrell moving to 12 and Jonathan Joseph going off. Ireland edged further in front in the 59th minute when Connor Murray nailed a penalty goal. It became mission impossible for England.
Their effort did result in a second try on 64 minutes, when Daly grabbed a brace. Brown drew two defenders and found Daly in space on the left wing to score. Farrell’s conversion missed, so the score moved to just 24-10. Ireland remained calm and continued to grind the hosts down.
Brown reached out to score with three minutes left, but he just had a foot into touch. At the death Jonny May did cross, but it was merely a consolation. It typified England’s day – close but not close enough. The day, indeed the 2018 Six Nations tournament, belonged to Ireland.