dominant performance from their pack and two tries – the second a sensational solo score – for Jonny May helped England to a fourth straight victory over Ireland.
England started their autumn with wins over Italy and Georgia that left their fans wanting more. In those games, they simply got the job done against lesser opposition. Here, they bullied a decent team. Victory over Wales in Llanelli next week will see them top Pool A, with a shot at winning the Autumn Nations Cup back at Twickenham on December 6.
The game was looser and more open than anticipated in the early stages, with kicks spilt and ambition shown by both sides. But as things tightened up and the scrappiness lifted a touch, England gripped the game. Until a late Irish score, it looked as if they would go two whole matches without conceding for the first time since 1962. As it was, they went more than 240 minutes without shipping a point.
England’s first-half excellence was built upon a ferociousness up front. Their forwards each made at least eight tackles in the first half, with the flankers Sam Underhill and Tom Curry clocking 14 each and Mako Vunipola 12. At the breakdown, which they dominated, they won six penalties. And the set-piece was all theirs too. They were not afraid to remind Ireland of that fact, either.
Twice Ireland sent kickable penalties to the corner, and twice England spoilt their five-metre lineout – the first resulting in May’s mazy second try. And twice Ireland forged their way into England’s 22 with ball in hand and twice conceded penalties at the breakdown, with Billy Vunipola the first menace and Maro Itoje the second.
In kinder conditions than they experienced last week, England were more fluent behind the scrum. Ollie Lawrence was more involved than he was on his first start last week, in both attack and defence. And then there was May, whose two tries take him to 31 for England, past Jeremy Guscott and level with Will Greenwood and Ben Cohen, with only Rory Underwood (49) ahead of him.
His first try came from a cross-kick from Owen Farrell on advantage ball. He rose above Hugo Keenan, the Irish full-back who England put under horrible high-ball pressure throughout the first half. May should never have been allowed to win the ball, but he did, and scored.
The second try, just four minutes later, was even more impressive. With Ireland deep in English territory, Ronan Kelleher overthrew. Itoje gathered the bouncing ball and fed the backline. In their own 22, they passed along the backline, until May set off. He ghosted past Chris Farrell and inside Keith Earls before kicking in-field. Inevitably, he won the footrace against Jamison Gibson-Park to score under the posts.
At the break, England could have been much further than 12 points ahead. Underhill had a try chalked off – after more pressure at the lineout – for not rolling away.
Ireland, particularly in the set-piece, improved as the game wore on in a duller second half. Owen Farrell nudged over two penalties to take England out of sight. Ireland enjoyed more forays into England’s 22, but every time they looked like scoring – and they came mighty close through Chris Farrell – England would find a penalty, usually through the brilliant Itoje, who was named man of the match.
A deserved score finally came, into the last 10 minutes with the benches emptying. It was made by one replacement and scored by another, with Billy Burns chipping over the defence beautifully, and Jacob Stockdale gathering to score.
Ireland had something to encourage them, but it came too late to change the outcome.
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