Ireland come good at the end to send out a message

Scoreline flattered England as CJ Stander bowed out after 51 Test appearances

Ireland players celebrate around Keith Earls after he scored a try during the Six Nations win over England. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Ireland players celebrate around Keith Earls after he scored a try during the Six Nations win over England. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Ireland 32 England 18

It’s one thing saying it, it’s another thing doing it. This was a statement win which not only might quieten some of the negative noises outside the Ireland camp but more importantly fuel the real belief within a unified and spirited squad that genuine progress is being made.

“It is, that’s the game isn’t it? That’s what it’s all about,” agreed Andy Farrell afterwards.

“It’s about transferring what you do day in, day out on to the field, under pressure. It wasn’t perfect out there by any means, the start was probably completely different to last week. We started pretty well last week, the start wasn’t great we made a few errors.

“What was most pleasing is how calm we were, how patient we were with the ball and how we went from moment to moment and didn’t get distracted. We kept our energy at a high level we needed to, to win a game against England.”

Indeed, even though they were flattered by the scoreline, England took some beating initially before ultimately being out-thought as well as out-fought. Ireland had a six-day turnaround and made more changes, although they worked, because, as suspected, this meant the introduction of some voraciously hungry players.

Tadhg Furlong was primed for a big game and not only was the scrum huge, and the breakdown work as efficient as ever, but the skills of the forwards were maximised - witness the frequency with which the first receiver mixed up hard carries by moving the ball and varying the point of attack to keep the English defence guessing.

The defence was energetic and connected, seeming to push from outside to in more. In this, his carrying and his cleverly used chasing and aerial skill, Robbie Henshaw was profoundly influential.

For once, the defensive lineout couldn’t eat into the opposition throw, and about the only area of potency for England was their maul.

As important as any moment was probably Jack Conan and Iain Henderson holding Maro Itoje over the line to prevent England from going 10-0 ahead early on.

England had seven of the game’s first eight throws, whereupon Ireland struck thrillingly and inventively with a precision training ground move. Rob Herring’s long throw for Jack Conan, standing in at scrumhalf, to peel onto must have been based on the likelihood that Tom Curry would do the same. Conan’s basketball pass met Keith Earls’ perfectly-timed run and the finish, stepping Jonny May, was sweet. Tellingly, within two seconds Earls was engulfed by nine teammates.

CJ Stander finished his Ireland career with a win. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
CJ Stander finished his Ireland career with a win. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The second try was probably the product of Ireland’s best bout of rugby since 2018. Again it originated in a scrum penalty up the line and required two minutes and 50 minutes of unrelenting accuracy in the service of Conor Murray, or others, off the base and in the carries, the clearing out and the passing.

It featured 25 phases, including the excellent Hugo Keenan reclaiming a high kick by Sexton, whose third carry into contact was followed by Jack Conan’s smart pick and dive for the line.

In truth, England got off lightly, for it would have been 27-6 early in the second-half rather than 23-6 after Earls’ had adroitly gathered a Sexton crosskick and touched down with an inch to spare in one movement, had Mathieu Reynal not had his suspicions confirmed about the faintest of knock-ons by Cian Healy.

Bundee Aki’s carry off a lineout and Henderson bursting through Kyle Sinckler’s tackle had been the prelude to another carry up the left touchline by Conan. Typical of the way Ireland’s high tempo running game kept the English defence on its heels was the way Tadhg Beirne tipped the ball on to Henderson before Sexton’s well-weighted kick pass.

For some reason it seems as if the ongoing quality of Murray and Sexton might not be fully appreciated until they are retired.

Murray’s kicking game, accuracy at the base and strength in defence never wavered. It was after one of Henshaw’s many good reads and tackles, on Ollie Lawrence, that Murray’s strength over the ball earned the penalty which led to that brilliantly executed opening try.

Ireland’s third consecutive win coincided with Sexton completing 80 minutes for the third game running and, by rights, could have been man of the match for the third game in a row. He was the driver again, providing so much energy and accuracy and so much strength and bravery on both sides of the ball, as well as another masterclass in goalkicking. His eight from eight, for 22 points, means he has landed 24 out of 25, the one exception being a conversion off the post in Murrayfield last week.

With 65 points in his four games, Sexton will comfortably lead the Six Nations scoring charts again.

It’s the little things, like when Ireland calmly responded to the double whammy of Aki’s red card and Ben Youngs’ try.

Murray and Sexton went blind off a ruck on halfway, carrying hard and straight again before offloading to Jacob Stockdale, another sustained attack of high quality with 14 men culminating in Sexton landing a penalty when Ben Earl didn’t roll away after Beirne’s tip pass inside to Healy.

The moment of the match was undoubtedly that wonderful lineout try, proving that oul’ man Earlsy still has wheels, and the evergreen winger almost matched that with his finish from Sexton’s cross kick.

But another, in equally inimitable style, was CJ Stander running into a three-man English brick wall with Billy Vunipola at its apex and reverberating like a Volvo car ad, but staying on his feet and, with a little help from Furlong and Josh van der Flier, actually inching over the gainline. This in turn lured Maro Itoje offside.

Stander smiled. He loved that collision as much as he ever has. He’ll be missed.

“This is a special team here,” he declared after his 51st and last Irish Test was done and dusted. “Things are going to happen for this team and it’d going to be a privilege to watch them.”

Scoring sequence: 9 mins Farrell pen 0-3; 18 mins Sexton pen 3-3; 22 mins Earls try, Sexton con 10-3; 27 mins Farrell pen 10-6; 30 mins Sexton pen 13-6; 37 mins Conan try, Sexton con 20-6; (half-time 20-6); 51 mins Sexton pen 23-6; 62 mins Sexton pen 26-6; 64 mins Youngs try 26-11; 69 mins Sexton pen 29-11; 74 mins Sexton pen 32-11; 79 mins May try, Daly con 32-18.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton (capt), Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Rob Herring, Tadhg Furlong; Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne; CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan. Replacements: Cian Healy for Kilcoyne (20 mins), Ryan Baird for Henderson, Peter O’Mahony for van der Flier (both 64 mins), Andrew Porter for Furlong (68 mins), Ronan Kelleher for Herring (71 mins), Jordan Larmour for Stockdale (78 mins), Ross Byrne for Henshaw (79 mins). Not used: Jamison Gibson Park.

England: Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Ollie Lawrence, Owen Farrell, Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler; Maro Itoje, Charlie Ewels; Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola. Replacements: Jamie George for Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge for M Vunipola (both half-time), Ben Earl for Wilson, Joe Marchant for Ford (both 51 mins), Jonny Hill for Ewels (56 mins), Dan Robson for Farrell (56 mins), George Martin for B Vunipola (64 mins), Will Stuart for Sinckler (65 mins).

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).

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