England hold off Ireland in Twickenham arm wrestle
Danny Care try ends Triple Crown hopes for Joe Schmidt’s side
England 13 Ireland 10: By the smallest of margins are such games decided. Today, with the Triple Crown there for the taking, this vicious battle turned England’s way after a miscued re-start from Ireland’s most effective player Jonathan Sexton.
It happened 15 minutes into the second half. England flyhalf Owen Farrell had just reduced arrears to four points with a penalty but England were gifted front foot possession when Sexton’s re-start was short and out on the full.
There were so many other crucial moments – with Ireland, as expected, lording it at scrum time – but that felt like the big one.
Highlights: England v Ireland
A few plays later Danny Care sprinted away for an instant classic English try to give them a lead that they refused to surrender.
A fascinating opening 40 minutes had both teams feeling they should have crossed the whitewash. Really though the inexperienced winger Jonny May butchered a seventh minute opportunity near the left corner flag. Conor Murray must get credit for getting a hand to the ball while the presence of Peter O’Mahony and Andrew Trimble also disrupted the Gloucester sprinter’s path to the line.
But it was a huge chance gone a begging.
That scare prompted a huge reaction from Ireland, with some fantastic fielding by the Kearney brothers, the latest O’Mahony turnover and unreal industry from Cian Healy all leading up to a move straight off the Clonmel training paddock.
Any Irish try was going to have to come off first or second phase possession as the English defence looked too organised, and far too impregnable.
Sure enough, with three decoy runners fixing the English midfield, Sexton put a sumptuous kick pass into Trimble’s hands, his offload finding Rob Kearney, who did superbly to recover a fumble, only to be stopped short.
The Irish pack sensed the opportunity and thundered around the corner but a thumping hit from Tom Wood saw Trimble cough up possession.
As Murray cleared Farrell belted him late with his shoulder. Craig Joubert looked at it several times on the big screen before deeming it to be an Irish penalty yet not a yellow card. Farrell has history in this regard but he escaped further sanction.
Four minutes later he put England 3-0 ahead with a well struck penalty of his own.
Farrell missed his second shot at goal six minutes before half-time, perhaps influencing Chris Robshaw’s decision to crank up their lineout maul from seven metres out. Paul O’Connell and the others decimated it, fracturing three attempts to rumble over.
Ireland cleared and disappeared under the stand.
It had been a costly last attack for England as Billy Vunipola was forced off with a leg injury after an innocuous enough tackle from Toner (who was having another storming afternoon). Still, Ben Morgan was a largely like for like replacement.
The opening moments of the second half were like a dream sequence for Ireland as Heaslip’s subtle pass sent Rob Kearney racing past opposite number Mike Brown and in under the posts. Joubert missed a little tug of an English jersey by O’Connell.
It got better and better. O’Connell went to the maul and Joubert started handing out penalties, mostly against Courtney Lawes.
The Northampton lock’s latest infringement on 49 minutes, as the Fields of Athenry reverberated around Twickenham, was within Sexton’s range and he duly made it 10-3.
That was never going to be enough to survive the inevitable English response but by God they were going to have to maim the likes of D’Arcy, Best, Heaslip and Chris Henry. The defence in general was phenomenal.
Best was adjudged to have not rolled away from the tackle on 54 minutes, allowing Farrell the easiest of three-pointers.
Sexton put the re-start dead and the balance of power immediately shifted back to England.
Murray disrupted the resulting scrum but Jack Nowell recovered to make decent yardage before a trio of Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins landed the most savage of blows.
Robshaw carried into D’Arcy, offloading back inside to put Brown racing clear, who in turn found the supporting Care for an outstanding team try.
Farrell’s conversion put England ahead, 13-10.
Guess what England did next? Care prodded them into Ireland’s territory.
It became an arm wrestle and nobody wants to get into such a duel with Joe Launchbury. The Wasps lock turned over Kearney on half way to allow Farrell nudge them into the corner.
Ireland survived thanks to Henry’s excellence and Kearney’s relieving left boot.
But the squeeze was on. The end game was bravery personified, with Brian O’Driscoll forced off injured, as England choked the life out of Ireland.
Scoring sequence – 24 mins: O Farrell pen, 0-3. Half-time. 41 mins: R Kearney try, 5-3; J Sexton conv, 7-3; 49 mins: J Sexton 10-3; 54 mins: O Farrell pen, 10-6; 55 mins: D Care try, 10-11; O Farrell conv, 10-13.
: M Brown; J Nowell, L Burrell, B Twelvetrees, J May; O Farrell, D Care; J Marler, D Hartley, D Wilson; J Launchbury, C Lawes; T Wood, C Robshaw, B Vunipola.
B Morgan for B Vunipola (36 mins, inj), M Vunipola for J Marler (64 mins), H Thomas for D Wilson, D Attwood for T Wood (both 70 mins), T Youngs for D Hartley (75 mins).
IRELAND: R Kearney; A Trimble, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D Toner, P O’Connell; P O’Mahony, C Henry, J Heaslip. Replacements: M Moore for M Ross (61 mins), F McFadden for A Trimble (65 mins), I Henderson for P O’Mahony (70 mins), J McGrath for C Healy (71 mins), J Murphy for C Henry, S Cronin for R Best (both 74 mins), P Jackson for B O’Driscoll (78 mins).
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).