What's hot and what's not from England's Twickenham showdown against Ireland.
England kept their Grand Slam dream alive with a scrappy RBS Six Nations win over the reigning champions at Twickenham. They outscored Ireland two tries to one but there are plenty of work-ons to keep their feet firmly on the ground in the coming weeks.
The first half was a tale of England knocking repeatedly on the Ireland door but never being allowed in, as the visitors repelled attack after attack. By half time England were only 6-3 up and looked like they might be made to pay for their lack of finishing power when Ireland made a fast start to the second half and took a 10-6 lead in the 46th minute thanks to a try from Conor Murray.
However, Owen Farrell narrowed the gap with a penalty after Devin Toner was penalised for shoving him over, then two tries in a five-minute burst suddenly put England 21-10 up. First Anthony Watson collected a glorious scoring pass from Chris Robshaw and crossed the line on the left, then Mike Brown sprinted over on the right as England put the ball quickly through hands to stretch Ireland’s narrow defence.
England spent some of the remaining 18 minutes hanging on by their fingernails as Jack Nowell made a try-saving tackle on Robbie Henshaw and England debutant Elliot Daly combined with George Kruis to hold up another Test first-timer Josh van der Flier over the line. Despite having Danny Care sin-binned inside the last ten minutes, England kept Ireland at bay and are now the only side who can still win a Grand Slam this year.
Billy Vunipola on the hoof – The big No 8 deservedly picked up the Man of the Match award after causing Ireland all sorts of problems in attack. One of his many breaks created the momentum which led to Brown’s try and he made a total of 96 metres from 18 carries.
Ireland’s last-ditch defending – Ireland might have missed 14 tackles in the first half but they made their hits when it really mattered, with Murray and CJ Stander combining to take Vunipola into touch in the left-hand corner when the No 8 had raced round the blindside of a scrum, then Murray and debutant centre Stuart McCloskey brought down Dylan Hartley under the posts when the England captain looked set to score their first try.
England’s recovery – They failed to capitalise on a lot of possession and territory in the first half and then went behind in the first five minutes of the second half, but England did not panic and instead found a way to up the pace and stretch Ireland’s narrow defence, creating two tries which turned the game in their favour. Twice they went a man down due to sin-binnings, but England’s defence also held out in a tense last ten minutes.
Ireland’s debutants – Openside van der Flier and centre McCloskey both looked at home in the Test arena, with van der Flier seemingly scoring a try only for the officials to rule that they could not see a clear grounding of the ball. Ultan Dillane made a strong impression off the bench when he came on in the second row for the last 15 minutes.
England’s conversion rate – England spent long periods of the first half camped in the Ireland 22 but could not turn the pressure into a single try. Slow ball, knock-ons and indecision all conspired to keep Ireland’s tryline in tact in that first period.
Mike Brown’s footwork – The England full-back caught Murray in the face with his boot while he was trying to ruck the ball back in the shadow of his own posts. The official looked at replays of the incident and decided the contact was accidental but Brown could have taken more care of where he was putting his foot and Murray was forced off with a cut to his face.
42 – The two teams missed 42 tackles between them, with England slipping off 23 and Ireland 19. England made 147 tackles to 135 by the visitors.
101 – The number of metres made by Robbie Henshaw with the ball in hand, more than any other player in the match. Josh van der Flier was the top tackler with 17.
420 – England’s total metres made with the ball in hand, but as they made 295m in the first half, it shows how Ireland forced them onto the back foot after the break.
England: M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, O Farrell (E Daly 65), J Nowell; G Ford, B Youngs (D Care 59); J Marler (M Vunipola 59), D Hartley (capt, J George 70), D Cole, M Itoje, G Kruis, C Robshaw (J Clifford 70), J Haskell (J Clifford 76), B Vunipola.
Tries: Anthony Watson, Mike Brown. Con: Owen Farrell. Pens: Farrell 3.
Yellow cards: James Haskell (44), Danny Care (71).
Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, R Henshaw, S McCloskey (S Zebo 63), K Earls; J Sexton (I Madigan 76), C Murray (E Reddan 70); J McGrath (C Healy 59), R Best (capt, R Strauss 70), M Ross (N White 59), D Ryan (U Dillane 65), D Toner, CJ Stander (R Ruddock 66), J van der Flier, J Heaslip.
Try: Conor Murray. Con: Johnny Sexton. Pen: Sexton.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Man of the Match: Billy Vunipola (England)
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