Men in green remain in title race with 32-15 victory at Twickenham
Ireland break 14-man England – eventually
Red cards ruin matches. The result becomes inevitable.
How often do we hear phrases like this? Yet on the evidence of England’s Six Nations match against Ireland, an early red card can make a match compelling.
Charlie Ewels was sent off less than two minutes into the match at Twickenham, but the fact Ireland played virtually the entire game with a man advantage was not obvious for those watching as England produced their best performance of the championship to date.
The fact that they were down to 14 meant their was an urgency to everything England (and Maro Itoje especially) did. And they did things well.
Their kick-chase game, particularly in the third quarter, was superb and put Ireland under pressure. Their scrum, with Jack Nowell packing down at flanker, dominated the visitors and delivered a handful of penalties. Yes, their attack didn’t click into gear – as it hasn’t for much of this Six Nations when they have had a full complement of players on the pitch – but they stayed in the fight and at one point looked like they might pull off a remarkable victory.
Crowds are often described as the ‘16th player’. Perhaps here the Twickenham hordes were the ‘15th player’ – and one England needed given their numerical disadvantage.
Much as the team itself were seemingly rallied by the early red card, so were the supporters. Every small victory was cheered, chants of “heave” came at set-piece time and Swing Low echoed around the stadium more often than it ever has in recent memory. It was the sort of atmosphere you’d expect at the Principality Stadium for a Wales’ Grand Slam decider – raucous, hostile and just bloody loud!
The tightness of the contest was illustrated by the fact the scores were level at 15-15 at the hour mark, Irish ill-discipline providing Marcus Smith with opportunities to put the ball through the posts and ensure they didn’t lose their grip on the match.
That resistance lasted until the 72nd minute. A couple of tries in the final stages delivered the result for Ireland, but the match review may not be an enjoyable watch, particularly given the way they also struggled at times to get into gear against an Italy side reduced to 13 men two weeks ago.
Still, they have the win and remain in the title race, two points behind France in the Six Nations table and hoping their opponents here will do them a favour by beating France in Paris next Saturday.
When James Lowe crossed in the sixth minute, it looked like it could be a long afternoon for England, but the hosts dug in, got that advantage up front and Ireland didn’t cross the line again until late in the first half.
Jamison Gibson-Park took a quick tap penalty and Hugo Keenan’s arcing run allowed him to surge over the line.
A couple of Smith penalties in the second half, though, meant Ireland’s lead was no more. Could England pull off the seemingly impossible?
No. Late tries from replacements Jack Conan and Finlay Bealham saw Ireland pull clear for the bonus-point victory.
Still, the Twickenham crowd seemed to have enjoyed the match they had witnessed, saluting England’s efforts after the final whistle by applauding those in white just as much as, if not more than, those in green when they walked around the pitch at the end.
Jamie George described it as “one of the proudest days I’ve had in an England shirt” while Eddie Jones called it a “foundation game” for England leading up to the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
“The spirit, the determination, the ability to work through problems,” added head coach Jones when picking out the positives of the performance. He added: “This pack is only getting to get better and better. We want an old-fashioned England pack and a new-fashioned England in attack.”
So that red cards ruin games argument…
Recommended videos for you
Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition for magazine delivery to your door.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.