Monday 20 May 2019

Brave Irish fall to the auld enemy in Twickers thriller

Killer blow: Jonathan Sexton of Ireland and Owen Farrell of England shake hands following the final whistle Photo: Michael Steele/Getty
Killer blow: Jonathan Sexton of Ireland and Owen Farrell of England shake hands following the final whistle Photo: Michael Steele/Getty
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

It was high-octane stuff, with Ireland under the cosh against the auld enemy for much of an absorbing Six Nations contest.

Not since 2010 have we won at Twickenham, and yesterday proved no different despite incredible character and a valiant effort from a depleted Irish team that simply wasn't good enough.

A telling statistic held the story - Ireland had completed an astonishing 95 tackles to England's 42 at the end of the first half as a rampant man of the match Billy Vunipola, all 20 stone of him, caused chaos among the Irish ranks.

There was no lack of bravery, and no standing off. For all its finesse, rugby is still a game of bulk and the only question going into the second half was whether we would have the stamina and energy to finish the game.

The first half started with Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell trading penalties - after 11 minutes, the score read 3-3.

England were quick off the mark, and there were a number of escapes for Ireland with some dropped balls and a missed penalty.

Ireland were simply not accurate enough, and on the 23rd minute England opted for a line-out when three points were available. Captain Dylan Hartley went over the line to sink Irish hearts, but the television match official (TMO) ruled he had used his legs to propel himself over the line after falling short - a so-called double movement, and so no try.

But there was a sense it was only a matter of time before England came back, with only a massive Irish effort keeping them at bay. It was exhilarating and exhausting, with England coming within a blade of grass from going over again.

Another penalty for Farrell, and at half time the score read England 6 Ireland 3.

The men in green had a brilliant start to the second half, pumped-up and taking the game to England. They were helped by a yellow card for Haskell for a late and high tackle, before Conor Murray dummied and scored a try from the base of a subsequent ruck. It was not more than they deserved after absorbing all that first-half pressure. Ireland 10, England 6.

At 51 minutes, Farrell landed a penalty making it 10-9. But just seven minutes later, Anthony Watson went into the corner, making it 14-10. At 62 minutes, Mike Brown followed suit and it left the sides 21-10.

The championship was gone. Mid-table is the best we can do. Just minutes later, the Leinster-bound Robbie Henshaw was ruled in touch and a try disallowed. England were down to 14 for the last 10 minutes, after Youngs was sent to the sin bin, and a Van der Flier try was denied by the TMO.

It was the story of the day. Incredible character despite depleted ranks.

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