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Dublin: 11°C Thursday 22 April 2021

Ireland blow England away as Farrell era hits an impressive benchmark

Robbie Henshaw led the way in a convincing Irish win at the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland 32

England 18

IRELAND HAD PROMISED us this was coming but the signs on the pitch hadn’t been all that promising. On a day when everything clicked, the Andy Farrell era well and truly got up and running with a dominant win over Eddie Jones’ England.

Not even a final-quarter red card for Bundee Aki could spoil this one. A brilliant performance had already won it for Ireland prior to that high tackle. On an evening when their discipline was dire once again, the English were smothered into submission as Farrell’s side gave CJ Stander the perfect send-off. 

ireland-players-celebrate-with-keith-earls-after-scoring-the-opening-try Ireland were dominant in Dublin. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Robbie Henshaw was everywhere, Tadhg Beirne seemed to be alongside him all the time. Keith Earls reminded everyone of his class on the right wing, while halfbacks Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray provided calm control.

Tadhg Furlong let Lions boss Warren Gatland know that he’s ready to start against the Springboks this summer, and Stander bid farewell to his Ireland Test career in typically prominent fashion. Aki, before his red, was muscular in midfield, while Josh van der Flier’s pickpocketing of Billy Vunipola was a highlight.

Hugo Keenan was a rock at fullback, Cian Healy came off the bench in impressive fashion, while Rob Herring highlighted why he is first-choice hooker. Jack Conan, backed to start at number eight, brought an impressive range of skills to the party.

Alongside the outstanding individual performances, this was a triumph for Farrell and his coaching team. Attack specialist Mike Catt’s work had failed to convince prior to this but Ireland answered those criticisms in emphatic fashion with a pair of first-half tries from the very top drawer.

Earls produced a brilliant finish on first phase of an intelligent lineout strike play, while Conan got on the end of a sensational extended passage of attack leading up to half-time.

They were top-class scores that infused Ireland with belief and broke England mentally. It was a special performance from Farrell’s men – the best from an Irish side since 2018 and their first win over England since then – and it really deserved a full house at the Aviva Stadium as Ireland sealed a top-half spot in this Six Nations. 

It remains unclear whether this summer’s tour to the Pacific Islands will go ahead but Farrell’s Ireland finished their campaign with a real bang. England, meanwhile, have finished a miserable fifth in this championship.

jack-conan-scores-a-try-despite-luke-cowan-dickie-and-tom-curry Jack Conan scores for Ireland before half-time. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The opening few minutes seemed ominous for Ireland as they were tackled into touch twice, contributing to England applying pressure and earning a penalty from Furlong at a maul that Farrell kicked for a ninth-minute lead.

England were soon back in the Ireland 22 after getting success from their kicking game and they went very close to scoring from the five-metre lineout, Farrell’s men managing to just about hold up Itoje after the rapid maul drive. 

England then sloppily gave up a scrum free-kick to let Ireland out and the home side barely looked back from their until the half-time break.

Henshaw was central to turning the tide, initiating a choke tackle turnover on George Ford, then making a half-break from the ensuing scrum attack before haring after a Sexton bomb to hammer Elliot Daly a help Ireland to a breakdown turnover penalty that the Ireland out-half slotted for 3-3. 

Henshaw’s excellent defence helped his team back down into the England half soon after and they produced a superb first-phase score to stun the visitors. Hooker Rob Herring deliberately overthrow deep behind the lineout to find number eight Jack Conan and he deftly palmed the ball down and back inside for Earls to scorch through the English defence and show agility to round last man Jonny May for the finish.

keith-earls-runs-in-a-try Keith Earls races clear to score for Ireland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Sexton converted the brilliant try and though Farrell grabbed three points back for England after a maul penalty, Ireland were on top. Tadhg Beirne earned a clever turnover from Maro Itoje off the restart, then Tadhg Furlong won a scrum penalty against Mako Vunipola. Sexton took the three for a 13-6 lead.

Ireland’s second try in the 37th minute involved some of the best rugby they have played under Farrell, a sustained bout of possession leading to Conan’s score.

An excellent aerial win by Hugo Keenan over Daly out on the right was key in the midst of the pressure before Ireland swept to their left and Conan – already having been impressively involved in the passage – picked and backed himself to finish through England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, stretching out his right arm to dot down.

Sexton’s conversion had Ireland in a dream 20-6 lead at the break but found themselves under early pressure after the restart as a dogged chase and hit by Daly on Earls under a Farrell bomb allowed England to kick into the left corner.

However, it went down as another miss for the English as referee Mathieu Raynal pinged their lineout for obstruction in front of the lineout jumper as he landed.

george-ford-is-tackled-by-bundee-aki-and-robbie-henshaw Robbie Henshaw was brilliant in midfield. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

A characteristic Tadhg Beirne turnover penalty at the breakdown gave Ireland their next attacking platform and they very nearly struck superbly again as Iain Henderson broke from a clever bounceback after Bundee Aki’s midfield hit-up.

With advantage playing two phases later, Henderson then lobbed an offload back over his head and Sexton dinked a cross-field kick wide right for Earls to nimble regather on the bounce and dot down before he hit the touch-in-goal line. Unfortunately for Ireland, a TMO review showed that Cian Healy – on for the injured Dave Kilcoyne in the first half – had knocked on just after Henderson’s offload. 

Sexton popped over the three points as they came back to the penalty advantage and Ireland had a 17-point lead and total dominance with half an hour left – their superiority soon underlined by Josh van der Flier stripping the ball from Billy Vunipola in a tackle.

Ireland soon obliterated the English scrum to allow Sexton to slot another penalty for 26-6 but the visitors got a sniff when Bundee Aki was sent off in the 64th minute the for a clear high tackle onto the head of Billy Vunipola, who was forced off.  

England scored directly off the close-range lineout as hooker Jamie George sniped back into the shortside, drew up Jacob Stockdale, and got his pass away for scrum-half Ben Youngs to score. Farrell had departed with a head injury and Ford had been replaced, so Daly took the conversion and missed from wide to the right.

tadhg-beirne-celebrates-winning-a-penalty-at-the-scrum Tadhg Beirne was superb once again. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The comeback was short-lived, however, as the English continued to infringe as their penalty count racked up, allowing Sexton to add another pair of penalties.

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Ireland ended the game with only 13 players on the pitch after scrum-half Murray was sin-binned and England grabbed a consolation score through left wing Jonny May but it didn’t take the gloss off the convincing win for Farrell’s side.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Keith Earls, Jack Conan

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [2 from 2]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [6 from 6]

England scorers:

Tries: Ben Youngs, Jonny May

Conversions: Elliot Daly [1 from 2]

Penalties: Owen Farrell [2 from 2]

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw (Ross Byrne ’79), Bundee Aki (red card ’64), Jacob Stockdale (Jordan Larmour ’78); Johnny Sexton (captain), Conor Murray (yellow card ’77); Dave Kilcoyne (Cian Healy ’20), Rob Herring (Rónan Kelleher ’71), Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter); Iain Henderson (Ryan Baird ’64), Tadhg Beirne; CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier (Peter O’Mahony ’64), Jack Conan.

Replacements: Jamison Gibson-Park.

ENGLAND: Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Ollie Lawrence, Owen Farrell (captain) (Dan Robson ’56), Jonny May; George Ford (Joe Marchant ’51), Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola (Ellis Genge ‘HT), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Jamie George ‘HT), Kyle Sinckler (Will Stuart ’64); Maro Itoje, Charlie Ewels (Jonny Hill ’56); Mark Wilson (Ben Earl ’51), Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola (George Martin ’64).

Referee: Mathieu Raynal [FFR].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from the Aviva Stadium

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