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Ireland in hunt for Six Nations title after pulsating victory over 14-man England at Twickenham

England 15 Ireland 32


Ireland players celebrate their side's fourth try, scored by Finlay Bealham

Ireland players celebrate their side's fourth try, scored by Finlay Bealham

Ireland players celebrate their side's fourth try, scored by Finlay Bealham

Victory for Ireland at Twickenham are rare and normally wonderful, but at the end of this strange and distorted contest, the players could barely muster a raised arm.

Against an England team that battled courageously with 14 men for 78 and a half minutes, Andy Farrell’s side put in their worst performance since their last visit here and yet they came away with a bonus-point win, their biggest ever in London, and one that keeps their hopes of a Triple Crown and a title alive.

If they’re not deeply worried by the way their scrum imploded and their leadership core melted under pressure, then they’re deluding themselves.

Had Charlie Ewels had not got himself sent off in the opening passages, this would have been a very different story. No doubt South Africa, their World Cup pool opponents, were taking note.

Ifs and buts. Ewels made the game-defining error early on, when he responded to his coach’s call for a new level of physicality by thundering into James Ryan. Although the home fans didn’t agree, the French official was left with no choice but to reach for a red card when replays of the head-to-head clash flashed up on the big screen.

Sexton knocked over the penalty to howls of derision, but the home crowd was silenced minutes later as the visiting side took full advantage of their extra man with a brilliantly worked try down the blindside as Jamison Gibson-Park found Dan Sheehan, his ball back inside put Josh van der Flier through a gap and the flanker found James Lowe, who had too much gas for Max Malins.

When Tadhg Furlong won a scrum penalty from Ellis Genge it looked like they could run away with things.

Appearances can be deceiving. Caelan Doris had a try chalked off for an earlier Ringrose knock-on and a dominant England scrum earned some relief with a penalty.

Suddenly, Ireland’s brains began to scramble and they made a succession of bad errors. Joe Marchant won a ruck penalty and Marcus Smith got his side off the mark, before the centre skinned Cian Healy and helped get England into position as they picked up another penalty.

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This time they went to the corner, but after repelling the maul, Healy cleverly dispossessed Jamie George and a helter-skelter series ensued as Keenan skinned Freddie Steward and Sexton kicked ahead where Ringrose regathered but was forced into touch. Ireland just needed to keep their heads but their discipline was poor.

Smith missed a chance to punish a sloppy error by Iain Henderson, but Sexton got in front of a Gibson-Park kick and the out-half made no mistake this time.

Itoje gave the visitors the in they needed with a poor high tackle on Ringrose. Sexton found touch and, when they earned a penalty, Gibson-Park smartly tapped and found Hugo Keenan for the full-back to power over. Sexton made it 15-6, but Andrew Conway didn’t deal with the restart and another Henderson concession allowed Smith make it a six-point game at the break. Ireland were making poor decisions. Gibson-Park tapped a kickable penalty and Beirne knocked on, leaving England another srum to monster.

A Conway 50-22 kick earned Ireland more field position, but Furlong’s pass to Bundee Aki went to ground and England got another chance to utilise their main weapon and, after a reset, they won their fifth scrum penalty in a row.

England followed that up with a bomb that Keenan dealt with, but then got caught holding on and Smith narrowed the gap to three.

They were behind on the scoreboard, but England and their crowd were on top everywhere else.

Swing Low rang out as Keenan knocked a Ben Youngs bomb, the scrum worked its magic and Smith levelled as Ireland were handed an overdue warning.

Just when they needed something, Conway delivered another stunning 50-22 to earn his side a lineout on the 5m line.

Ireland made the most of it, picking up a dubious penalty when Itoje played Gibson-Park and gave away a penalty that Sexton converted. Bafflingly, Raynal kept his yellow card in his pocket.

They almost closed it out when Doris made a big burst through a tired England defence but he couldn’t connect with Conor Murray, who would have walked in untouched if he’d held the pass.

They finally got there through Jack Conan, who carried over at the end of a long, punishing set of phases as the visitors finally made their numerical advantage count.

That was the end of England’s resistance and Finlay Bealham crashed over to secure a bonus point that looked so unlikely only 15 minutes before.

Scorers - England: Smith 5 pens.

Scorers – Ireland: Lowe, Keenan, Conan, Bealham tries; Sexton 2 pens, 3 cons.

ENGLAND – F Steward; M Malins, J Marchant (E Daly 70), H Slade, J Nowell; M Smith, H Randall (B Youngs 52); E Genge (J Marler 67), J George (J Blamire ), K Sinckler (W Stuart 40); M Itoje, C Ewels; C Lawes (capt), S Simmonds, T Curry (A Dombrandt 15) (J Launchbury 67).

IRELAND – H Keenan; A Conway, G Ringrose, B Aki (R Henshaw 67), J Lowe; J Sexton (capt) (J Carbery 80), J Gibson-Park (C Murray 68); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 53), D Sheehan (R Herring 53), T Furlong (F Bealham 74); T Beirne, J Ryan (I Henderson 2); P O’Mahony (J Conan 62), J van der Flier, C Doris.

Ref: M Raynal (France)

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