Ireland avoid painful inquest as strong finish sets up record win at Twickenham

Despite early red card for Charlie Ewels, England dominated for large parts of the game

England 15 Ireland 32

Cometh the hour, the sense that this was going to be a huge game in this Irish team’s evolution had intensified even more after Marcus Smith landed his fifth penalty to bring 14-man England back to 15-all. The momentum was all England’s, the Twickenham cauldron shook to Swing Low being repeatedly bellowed out and, if truth, a jittery Ireland appeared to have lost their composure.

Had Ireland not closed the deal out after the advantage of playing against 14 men for 78 minutes the damage to this team and individuals within it would have been considerable, and the inquest painful.

Ireland would also have headed to New Zealand for a three-Test series this summer having lost in its only two examinations in front of away crowds since the onset of the pandemic.


Instead, they held their nerve and even won with the flourish of a bonus point, recording Ireland's biggest win and highest score ever against England at a fortress where the home side had only lost twice in the Six Nations in the past decade.

Allowing for last season’s win over Scotland at an empty Murrayfield, this was Ireland’s most significant away win since the Grand Slam coronation here in 2018.

For sure it was against 14 men for pretty much the entire game and England wilted after an heroic effort. But the general praise over here for what may indeed have been a “proud” effort, whatever about “inspired” is a tad surprising, as is Eddie Jones’s tiresome nods toward the World Cup.

In three games against their Celtic rivals they have been outscored by nine tries to two and Jones has to take some responsibility for the Charlie Ewels red card when recklessly clattering James Ryan head-on-head; the latest concussion episode for Ryan being the bigger picture here.

“We are a very physical team,” Jones had forewarned. “And they [Ireland] haven’t played against a side as physical as us for a long time. If you look at their record, they haven’t played against South Africa since 2017. We played against South Africa last year and did well in those physical stakes, so we intend to really take it to them.”

Who knows how Mathieu Raynal’s decision, albeit correct, to send off Ewels in the second minute affected his own mindset thereafter? It led to a cacophony of boos from Twickenham crowd and may well have affected his judgment thereafter.

Certainly it was odd to see not one, nor even two, but three wheeled scrums lead to English penalties. Rather than reset the first one, as many referees might have done, Raynal both nailed his colours to the mast and gave the English pack every encouragement to keep on walking the scrum around. The aerial angle also seemed to show Ellis Genge scrummaging at an angle.

Interestingly, Nigel Owens reckons the scrum penalty count should have been 4-2 or maybe 3-3.

That said, there’s no doubt that the English scrum was more square when shunting the Irish pack virtually at will in the second half. It had uncomfortable echoes of the 30-9 rout here a decade previously, when Mike Ross went off before half-time, Tom Court was pressed into service at tighthead and Ireland conceded seven scrum penalties. Indeed, all but three of England’s points emanated directly from their scrum that day.

After Ryan’s departure, Ireland were thus missing three of the tight five that started out the tournament, but this game highlighted a potential Achilles heel and a worrying lack of frontrow depth at Test level.

On Saturday, Ireland compounded the concession of six scrum penalties, and one indirect free-kick, with all manner of daft penalties, and Iain Henderson was the chief serial offender.

Ireland were brilliantly into their attacking rhythm – rapid recycling, tip ins, tap ons, wraps, short and long passes, clever lines and reaching both edges threateningly. And after a sweetly worked try between Jamison Gibson-Park, Dan Sheehan, Josh van der Flier and James Lowe for the latter’s fine finish, things might well have panned out differently had Caelan Doris’s ‘try’ to make it potentially 15-0 not been over-ruled.

Save for the brilliant Hugo Keenan alertly finishing off Gibson-Park’s quick tap after another spell of superb attacking rugby, much of the middle hour made for distinctly uncomfortable viewing.

Every offload inside the English 22 which didn’t go to hand saw another try-scoring opportunity lost. Furthermore, more scrums led to more penalties, more English momentum and more Swing Lows.

Ireland were creaking until Johnny Sexton stayed firm under a high ball and big hit by the exceptional Maro Itoje, Tadhg Beirne then stole a vital lineout in the Irish 22 from the latter and Ireland rediscovered their mojo after Lowe came off his wing to link with Gibson-Park for a big incision.

Lowe’s strength on the left flank was also vital in the build-up to the late tries by Jack Conan and Finlay Bealham. In a bench featuring four Lions – and Henderson did partially redeem himself in the endgame – there was something particularly comforting – one imagines for the players primarily – in seeing Conor Murray come on with all his vast game know-how.

In the final analysis, New Ireland scored four tries to nil over Old England, completed 189 passes to 68 and made eight line breaks to one. Ireland forced things and made more handling errors – 19 to three – but that’s because they also played all the running rugby.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 3 mins: Sexton pen 0-3; 6: Lowe try 0-8; 18: Smith pen 3-8; 32: Smith pen 6-8; 37: Keenan try, Sexton con 6-15; 40 (+1): Smith pen 9-15; (half-time 9-15); 53: Smith pen 12-15; 60: Smith pen 15-15; 66: Sexton pen 15-18; 72: Conan try, Sexton con 15-27; 76: Bealham try, Sexton con 15-32.

ENGLAND: Freddie Steward (Leicester); Max Malins (Saracens), Joe Marchant (Harlequins), Henry Slade (Exeter), Jack Nowell (Exeter); Marcus Smith (Harlequins), Harry Randall (Bristol); Ellis Genge (Leicester), Jamie George (Saracens), Kyle Sinckler (Bristol); Maro Itoje (Saracens), Charlie Ewels (Bath); Courtney Lawes (Northampton, capt) Tom Curry (Sale), Sam Simmonds (Exeter).

Replacements: Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins) for Curry (15), Will Stuart (Bath) for Sinckler (39), Ben Youngs (Leicester) for Randall (54), Joe Marler (Harlequins) for Genge, Joe Launchbury (Wasps) for Dombrandt (both 66), Elliot Daly (Saracens) for Marchant, Jamie Blamire (Newcastle) for George, George Ford (Leicester) for Smith (both 80).

Sent-off: Ewels (2 mins).

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Andrew Conway (Munster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), James Lowe (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster, capt), Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Tadhg Beirne (Munster), James Ryan (Leinster); Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster),

Replacements: Iain Henderson (Ulster) for Ryan (2 mins), Rob Herring (Ulster) for Sheehan, Dave Kilcoyne (Munster) for Healy (both 53), Jack Conan (Leinster) for O'Mahony (61), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster) for Aki (66), Conor Murray (Munster) for Gibson-Park (68), Finlay Bealham (Connacht) for Furlong (74), Joey Carbery (Munster) for Sexton (80).

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (FFR).