Marcus Smith kicks the winning drop goal. Andrew Fosker/INPHO

Heartbreak for Ireland as Grand Slam dream killed by England

The English were deserved winners at a bouncing Twickenham.

England 23

Ireland 22

TWICKENHAM WAS LITERALLY bouncing as Marcus Smith fired over the winning drop goal with the last play of the game.

This was Six Nations rugby at its most frantic, thrilling, nauseating, brutal best. And it ended with Irish heartbreak as their dream of back-to-back Grand Slams was killed by a brilliant England performance.

The better team won. Steve Borthwick’s under-fire team scored three tries to Ireland’s two and thrived off the brilliant atmosphere created by a crowd of 81,686 at Twickenham. The English brought huge physicality, went hard at Ireland’s lineout, and made them deeply uncomfortable throughout.

Ireland thought they might have snuck a win with James Lowe’s second try eight minutes from time but England came back at them again. Elliot Daly missed a long-range penalty but they worked their way into position for replacement out-half Marcus Smith to fire over the drop goal that ensured Irish misery. Cue wild scenes.

This was a spicy affair, with head coaches Andy Farrell and Borthwick seen arguing as they headed down the tunnel at half time. The collisions on the pitch were titanic.

And too often, Ireland will feel they lost their composure. There was a big period of poor play from Farrell’s men in the second half, with captain Peter O’Mahony sin binned during that spell. It never felt like Ireland were the team dictating the momentum of the game.

Ireland should still seal the Six Nations title next weekend by beating Scotland and they will be favourites to do so, but this disappointment will take a while to shake off.

It was a totally deserved England win as they produced their best performance since their agonising World Cup semi-final defeat to South Africa last year. When they play like this, Borthwick’s side are menacing. The outstanding back row Ben Earl led the charge for them as they bossed lots of he collisions.

The Irish 6/2 bench split was tested by an early injury for right wing Calvin Nash and then second-half injury to his replacement, Ciarán Frawley, meaning that scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park played the final half hour on the wing.

That was emblematic of an evening when things didn’t go Ireland’s way, though they will believe much of that was in their control. There will be no Grand Slam but there’s still a very strong chance of sealing the Six Nations next weekend.

ollie-lawrence-scores-his-sides-opening-try Ollie Lawrence scores for England. Andrew Fosker / INPHO Andrew Fosker / INPHO / INPHO

The physicality was wince-inducing from the off as Ireland made a strong start to take the lead just three minutes in, with clever snipes over the top of the breakdown from van der Flier and Doris resulting in England being pinged for offside. Crowley slotted the three.

But England responded superbly as a rare scuffed exit kick from Lowe saw the English counter from right to left. Ireland wing Calvin Nash went all-in on a tackle on opposite number Tommy Freeman but came off the worse and when England recycled, classy hands from Ford, George Furbank, and Henry Slade sent Lawrence haring down the left touchline and past Crowley to score an unconverted try.

Nash was forced off permanently with the head injury he suffered in that huge collision, meaning Ciarán Frawley came on at fullback and Hugo Keenan shifted to the right wing.

England had their tails up and their big carriers – Earl, Genge, and Lawrence – were making inroads, meaning Ireland needed crucial defensive plays.

Van der Flier earned a breakdown turnover in the Irish 22 and Beirne stole a lineout, but after Earl broke from deep in England’s half and offloaded to captain George, Aki was penalised for not rolling away from the tackle and Ford made it 8-3.

Ireland did swiftly close the gap though as Lawrence was offside jackaling for a steal and Crowley drew them back to 8-6 with a frenetic quarter played.

andrew-porter-with-blood-pouring-down-his-face Ireland's Andrew Porter. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Farrell’s men had to survive an onslaught in there 22 straight after, Aki having been tackled into touch by Chessum off the restart. Sheehan made a stunning tackle on Earl after an England trick play at the lineout, then it was Beirne who swooped for the turnover as the ball was left exposed at the England ruck metres from Ireland’s line.

England thought they had a second try in the next passage as Lawrence regathered the ball after his own grubber down the left, but the TMO review showed that Furbank had knocked on in a tussle for the ball with Frawley. Referee Nika Amashukeli ignored both sides claims that there had been illegal head contact in the preceding phases on Tadhg Furlong and Genge.

There was an important moment in the 31st minute as Ford missed a 40-metre shot at goal from in front of the posts after Aki was caught offside. Three minutes later, Aki pounced for a jackal turnover and Crowley squeezed his low-trajectory shot over from 45 metres out.

For the first time, Ireland led and they extended that advantage just before the break. Furbank had a few minutes to forget as he knocked on in the Irish half and then carried Lowe’s mammoth kick off the ensuing scrum into touch in his own 22.

Ireland attacked, Chessum and Ford were offside, and Crowley made it 12-8 at the break.

james-lowe-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-ciaran-frawley Ireland celebrate James Lowe's try early in the second half. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The visitors had to defend early in the second after Crowley knocked on a high ball but Lawrence was in the side of a breakdown on the subsequent attack and Ireland could kick downfield, where they delivered a brilliant 43rd-minute try.

They box-kicked from the lineout and Keenan brilliantly won he ball back in traffic, allowing Ireland to spring onto the attack against a disorganised defence. Furlong swept the ball out the back to Crowley, who cleverly delayed his pass to Doris, then Henshaw, Aki, and Frawley spun it wide for Lowe to score in the left corner. 

17-8 ahead, Ireland seemed to lapse in focus almost immediately. They kicked out of their 22 but numbered-up poorly in defence, allowing England to flood back at them. Slick handling from the English sent Furbank away down the left and though Ford missed another kick, the home side were back within four points.

Ireland then lost Frawley to another head injury, meaning Conor Murray entered the fray and Jamison Gibson-Park moved from scrum-half out to the wing, with Keenan returning to fullback.

Farrell’s men soon had a visit down to the English 22 but George Martin stole a lineout, then Murray’s poor pass was knocked on by Aki. England went hard at the next lineout too, with Chessum stealing near halfway and the relentless Earl made another linebreak.

As Ireland scrambled, captain O’Mahony lost composure and dove straight over the ruck outside his 22 to kill the ball. He had to go to the bin and Amashukeli obliged.

peter-omahony-jamison-gibson-park-and-conor-murray O'Mahony was sin binned in the second half. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

England kicked into the 22 and won penalty advantage through their maul. Though Keenan then made a brilliant tackle wide on the left to briefly keep the English out, it was that man Earl who smashed over to the right of the posts for their third try. Marcus Smith, just on for Ford, converted for a 20-17 England lead with game into the last quarter.

14-man Ireland knocked on again on their next visit into England territory, with Henshaw spilling on an inside pass from Crowley, while Gibson-Park knocked on in a tackle just inside England’s half soon after.

Ireland looked flustered and Earl pounced the next time they attacked, jackaling for a big penalty in midfield with 13 minutes left. 

Farrell knew Ireland needed a big play and it was Iain Henderson, the replacement lock, who came up with a breakdown turnover penalty on the halfway line. Crowley nudged an excellent line kick down the right to within 10 metres of the English tryline.

The maul was stopped but Ireland played off it. They won penalty advantage and struck for the kill. Henderson swept a slick pass out the back to Crowley and he found Gibson-Park, whose catch-pass was stunning to give Lowe time and space to finish past England sub scrum-half Danny Care in the left corner.

Crowley didn’t connect with the conversion attempt so Ireland had a two-point lead with six minutes to go.

It didn’t hold, though. Daly was just wide with his penalty from inside his own half but England kept coming. They marched down into the Irish 22 and with penalty advantage playing, centurion Danny Care found Smith in the pocket. He did the business. 

England scorers:

Tries: Ollie Lawrence, George Furbank, Ben Earl

Conversions: George Ford [0 from 2], Marcus Smith [1 from 1]

Penalties: George Ford [1 from 2], Elliot Daly [0 from 1]

Drop goal: Marcus Smith

Ireland scorers:

Tries: James Lowe [2]

Conversions: Jack Crowley [0 from 2]

Penalties: Jack Crowley [4 from 4]

ENGLAND: George Furbank; Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Henry Slade (Elliot Daly ’66), Ollie Lawrence, Tommy Freeman; George Ford (Marcus Smith ’59), Alex Mitchell (Danny Care ’66); Ellis Genge (Joe Marler ’54), Jamie George (captain) (Theo Dan ’54), Dan Cole (Will Stuart ’54); Maro Itoje, George Martin; Ollie Chessum (Alex Dombrandt ’66), Sam Underhill (Chandler Cunningham-South ’60), Ben Earl.

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Calvin Nash (Ciarán Frawley ’6 (Conor Murray ’51)), Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Jack Crowley, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter (Cian Healy ’72), Dan Sheehan (Rónan Kelleher ‘), Tadhg Furlong (Finlay Bealham ’62); Joe McCarthy (Iain Henderson ’62), Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (captain) (yellow card ’59) (Ryan Baird ’69), Josh van der Flier (Jack Conan ’62), Caelan Doris.

Referee: Nika Amashukeli [Georgia].

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