Heroic Ireland produce performance full of pride to beat England in dramatic clash
Ireland 13 England 9
It came too late for Ireland’s title ambitions, but the nature of this win might just have saved their season.
Joe Schmidt’s men overcame adversity to produce a performance of huge quality and intensity to deny the Six Nations champions England a Grand Slam and a world record 19th win in a row.
They lost Jamie Heaslip in the warm-up, but gained an inspired Peter O’Mahony. Kieran Marmion looked to the manor born, while Johnny Sexton took all the punishment the men in white threw his way on an ill-disciplined outing for Eddie Jones’ men.
In the cold light of day they will rue their deficiencies, but that can wait. Sometimes a one-off win cures what ails you.
Despite a hugely inexperienced bench that lacked the English fire-power, they resisted a huge effort from the world’s second best team to get over the line in front of a raucous home crowd.
Earlier defeats denied them a trophy, but this was a reminder that when they are good this team can live with the very best and it is something they can build on in the summer in the United States and Japan and beyond.
Ireland suffered a blow before the game had even settled, with vice-captain Heaslip forced to cry off after rolling his ankle in the warm-up which saw Schmidt re-jig his back-row and put O’Mahony on the blindside and CJ Stander at No 8 with Dan Leavy promoted to the bench.
It didn’t faze them as they took control of the game early on and barely relinquished it for the rest of the half.
England started with intent and a Mike Brown knock-on spared Irish blushes after a rusty Jared Payne knocked Ben Youngs’ box-kick on and the visiting side looked to have space on the edge.
Instead, Ireland opened the scoring through Johnny Sexton’s penalty and it might have been more had Keith Earls not knocked on Jared Payne’s off-load after an outrageous piece of skill from Rory Best who left the field needing a Head Injury Assessment afterwards as his out-half assumed the captaincy for a short period.
England hit back as the excellent Donnacha Ryan was harshly penalised for not rolling away allowing Owen Farrell to score but as Best returned the home team punished England’s poor discipline allowed Sexton kick to the corner twice and they bullied their way over from a perfectly set maul and Iain Henderson touched down.
Sexton converted and a Courtney Lawes’ knock-on handed the initiative back to the home side who sent Payne up the middle before working the ball wide brilliantly for Earls who got within metres of the line.
The good work was spoiled as Marmion knocked on and England attacked, with Elliot Daly collecting a Farrellhigh ball and the forwards taking over until O’Mahony intervened and made a crucial turnover.
Joe Launchbury’s penalty concession brought a breathless phase of play to an end and allowed Sexton apply more pressure by kicking to touch but they couldn’t take advantage as the white wall repelled Ireland’s advance.
England turned over an Irish maul, but the old chop tackle came out as Sexton, Sean O’Brien and Robbie Henshaw forced a turnover but another good attacking opportunity passed by as O’Mahony was penalised for taking Maro Itoje without the ball.
Having been starved of possession and territory for most of the half, England finished in the Irish half but the clock beat them and Ireland led 10-7 at the break.
Both sides made changes at the interval, with Andrew Conway coming in for his debut for the injured Earls and Mako Vunipola introduced for Joe Marler who had been struggling.
Garry Ringrose almost broke free of the suffocating English defence during a cagey opening to the second-half.
Farrell reduced the deficit from distance when Jack McGrath played Youngs illegally.
The game was slowly turning into the champions’ favour as they mauled their way into it, forcing successive penalties to allow Farrell kick them into Irish territory but another Sexton-engineered choke tackle – with help from Henshaw – turned James Haskell over in midfield.
Instead, Ireland hit back and somehow Payne made huge yardage counter-attacking from a nothing ball and was felled by a high-looking Billy Vunipola challenge that referee Jerome Garces saw nothing wrong with and the TMO also allowed pass him by without comment.
A Farrell body slam was followed by Itoje straying offside in midfield and despite being on the end of another cheap English shot, Sexton dusted himself down and nailed a brilliant penalty to restore the seven point lead.
Eddie Jones continued to send on his big bench and Conway was unlucky when he mis-timed his hit on Ben Te’o who was in the air and England kicked into the ’22.
Again, Ireland were guilty of a maul offence and rather than go to the corner Farrell narrowed the deficit to four points off the tee.
Conway disrupted the English kick-off reception, but Ringrose knocked on and Cian Healy collapsed the scrum to allow England edge into the Ireland half but a monstrous Henshaw hit on Te’o saw the former Leinster man need to leave the field for a HIA.
England turned down three points when Henshaw was done for not rolling away and they paid the price when O’Mahony pilfered the ball at the front and Danny Care carelessly slapped the ball out of Luke McGrath’s hand to allow Sexton lift the siege.
Ireland went to their maul, before a clever Luke McGrath kick made England play it from their own 5m line.
They kicked it out and O’Mahony was rock-solid off Niall Scannell’s throw, but the English got to the hooker at the back of the maul and forced a crucial turnover by winning the scrum.
Ireland got the nudge on, but Garces ordered a re-set. England attacked and Scannell handed them a penalty by playing Youngs.
England attacked and there were echoes of 2013 and the All Blacks, but Mike Brown knocked on.
They’re not at that level yet. Deserved champions, but the record and the Slam were a step too far.
IRELAND – J Payne; K Earls (A Conway h-t), G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton (P Jackson), K Marmion (L McGrath 69); J McGrath (C Healy 60), R Best (capt, N Scannell 11-18 HIA, 73), T Furlong (J Ryan 76); I Henderson, D Ryan (D Toner 65); CJ Stander, S O’Brien (D Leavy 66), J Heaslip.
ENGLAND – M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph (J Nowell 68), O Farrell, E Daly; G Ford (B Te’o 63 (G Ford 70 HIA), B Youngs (D Care ); J Marler (M Vunipola h-t), D Hartley (capt, J George 54), D Cole (K Sinckler ); J Launchbury, C Lawes; M Itoje, J Haskell (T Wood 60), B Vunipola (N Hughes 63).
Referee: J Garces (France)