Johnny Sexton kicks 22 points to inflict 32-18 misery on indisciplined England

Keith Earls try sparks Ireland rout of England

The notion that England had turned a corner with their exhilarating win against France proved a false one. Their earlier failings came back to bite them and the defending Six Nations champions have finished second to bottom in the table. It’s the first time they have lost to Scotland, Wales and Ireland in the same championship for 45 years.

Unlike the defeat in Cardiff, there were no mitigating factors in Dublin for Eddie Jones’s men. They were outmuscled and out-thought by a team they had beaten four times on the spin.

“England have gone backwards,” said Lawrence Dallaglio, a pundit for ITV. “That did not reflect English rugby. It’s time to start again,” said Sir Clive Woodward in the studio.

Keith Earls try sparks Irish rout of England

Respect: Cian Healy celebrates with CJ Stander, who played his 51st and final Test for Ireland (Inpho)

For Ireland, the opposite is true. They won with ease – their 50th Test win v England – despite having Bundee Aki sent off just past the hour mark for a high tackle. This could be the result that quells the doubters, provides belief that coach Andy Farrell is walking the right path.

Related content: Bundee Aki is sent off

In 35-year-old Johnny Sexton, the tournament’s leading scorer after a 22-point harvest, they have a captain colossus. The likes of Tadhg Beirne and Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong and Conor Murray, have surely cemented their places in the 2021 British & Irish Lions squad, and many of their team-mates have thrown their hat in the ring.

One of them is Keith Earls, who scored his first try against England for 11 years to break the deadlock in today’s match at Aviva Stadium.

And once again it was a try that had Paul O’Connell’s fingerprints over it as it stemmed from a clever lineout play. No 8 Jack Conan outjumped Tom Curry at the back and palmed the ball down for Earls coming through a gap on the burst.

Earls went round Jonny May, the last defender, and made the line for his first try against England since he scored at Twickenham in 2010.

Sexton’s conversion put Ireland 10-3 ahead after 23 minutes. Owen Farrell and Sexton each landed a couple of penalties as well in the first half-hour in a match that didn’t quite match up to its billing in the opening period. Watch Earls’s superb try here…

England had bossed the first quarter without making it count on the scoreboard. Ireland held up a front lineout drive over the line but otherwise chances were few and far between.

Dave Kilcoyne went off for an HIA after a clash of heads with Kyle Sinckler and there was an example of George Ford’s skill with the boot as he launched a spiral bomb that deceived Murray in front of his posts. Aki got back to bail him out of trouble.

Henshaw, who was to win Man of the Match, made a number of valuable interventions. One of them, a man-and-ball tackle on Elliot Daly, resulted in a penalty for sealing off that Sexton kicked to cancel out Farrell’s opening penalty for a lineout infringement.

Incidentally, after all the chat about Daly switching to 13, he played at full-back after all because Max Malins suffered a leg injury in training yesterday. Ollie Lawrence came in at 13.

Ireland grew stronger as the half elapsed and they scored a second try four minutes before half-time when Conan crossed after some excellent phase play.

Watch his try below. It helped Ireland into a 20-6 lead at the break and history was squarely behind the hosts because the side leading at half-time had won the previous 27 fixtures between the sides. The pattern was not to be broken.

England introduced Jamie George and Ellis Genge into the fray for the second half. Far from invigorating the visitors, England’s performance became ragged as the indiscipline issues that have marred their championship began to surface once more. “Too many loose threads,” said commentator Nick Mullins about England.

Earls came within a whisker of another try following a dextrous finish from a cross-kick but the try was chalked off for a knock-on by Cian Healy.

Nevertheless, the first points of the half went to the faultless Sexton. And when Ireland’s captain knocked over another three-pointer, after Healy forced a penalty at the scrum, the Irish had stretched their advantage to a massive 26-6.

Farrell went off for an HIA but momentum swung unexpectedly England’s way as Aki tackled Billy Vunipola too high. The incident was reviewed and the Connacht centre was sent off, a repeat of his red card against Samoa at the 2019 World Cup.

Almost immediately, England reduced the deficit as they set up a driving maul and George broke down the short side to put Ben Youngs in for the try.

If there were any jitters in the Irish camp, they were soon dispelled as Sexton landed his fifth penalty with little more than ten minutes remaining. When replacement Jonny Hill changed his binding at a defensive maul, England conceded their 14th penalty and Sexton made them pay in customary manner, 32-11.

Johnny Sexton

Tee time: Johnny Sexton kicks a penalty – he finished with a personal record haul of 22 points (Getty)

England recovered a smidgeon of respectability in the closing moments as May crossed on the left for a try that was converted. Ireland were down to 13 players at that stage as Murray was sin-binned for encroaching offside on his line.

It mattered not. England, the reigning champions, have lost to all of their Home Nations rivals and finish with only Italy separating them from the foot of the table, just as occurred in 2018. Their failure to stay the right side of the laws has repeatedly undermined their game and the optimism of last weekend’s win against France has dissipated.

The result will inevitably fuel mutterings that Eddie Jones is not getting the best out of the talented pool of players at his disposal. His nose for selection will be questioned.

And Warren Gatland, in attendance at the Aviva Stadium, will surely be picking a Lions squad with a greater Celtic hue than he would have anticipated when the championship kicked off at the start of February.

Josh van der Flier

Pre-match chat: Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier speaks with the digital mascot via a tablet (Inpho)

Afterwards, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell told RTÉ Sport: “To win your last game in a tournament is always pleasing because it’s a long time between drinks until the next one.

“I’m delighted for the lads because they have come in for a bit of stick. Obviously, we’ve lost a couple of games but the lads have always believed in how they’re progressing and they’ve always thought there was a performance like that in them.

“The performance wasn’t perfect, there’s still a lot to work on, but I’m so pleased for them that they got over the line against a very good side.”


Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw (Ross Byrne 79), Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale (Jordan Larmour 78); Jonathan Sexton (capt), Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne (Cian Healy 20), Rob Herring (Ronan Kelleher 71), Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter 64), Iain Henderson (Ryan Baird 64), Tadhg Beirne, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier (Peter O’Mahony 64), Jack Conan.

Tries: Earls, Conan. Cons: Sexton 2. Pens: Sexton 6.

England: Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Ollie Lawrence, Owen Farrell (capt, Dan Robson 56), Jonny May; George Ford (Joe Marchant 51), Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola (Ellis Genge ht), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Jamie George ht), Kyle Sinckler (Will Stuart 64), Maro Itoje, Charlie Ewels (Jonny Hill 56), Mark Wilson (Ben Earl 51), Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola (George Martin 64).

Tries: Youngs, May. Con: Daly. Pens: Farrell 2.

Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.