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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Dan Sheridan/INPHO Ireland celebrate after James Lowe's try.
# Silverware
Ireland finish strong in Twickenham to tee up Triple Crown shot against Scots
Andy Farrell’s men have a fine chance to finish this Six Nations with four wins out of five games.

WHEN ENGLAND WON yet another scrum penalty and Marcus Smith popped over the three points to make it 15-15 with 20 minutes to go, there was a sense around Twickenham that something remarkable might happen.

Despite a red card in the second minute – Charlie Ewels’ head-on-head hit left James Ryan reeling and referee Mathieu Raynal with only one option – the English had muscled their way back into contention. At that point, there was a swell of belief soaring among the home fans at the southwest London stadium.

Ireland had scored swiftly after the sending off, James Lowe crossing thanks to superb work by Jamison Gibson-Park, Dan Sheehan, and Josh van der Flier, but thereafter they laboured. They genuinely looked like they were on the ropes at one stage.

A total of 17 turnovers conceded and six scrum penalties against Ireland over the course of the 80 minutes tells us plenty about what we need to know.

Skipper Johnny Sexton believes they would have lost this game two years ago, but Andy Farrell’s men found the answer on this occasion. 

Andrew Conway’s stunning 50:22 was important. His second such kick of the game allowed Ireland into position to win the penalty that edged them 18-15 in front, England lock Maro Itoje somehow escaping a yellow card for giving up a blatant penalty on their tryline just after Rob Herring had very nearly scored.

There were still ropy moments after that – Conway kicking out on the full from outside his 22 – but Ireland steadied themselves. Tadhg Beirne produced a lineout steal and then Conor Murray very nearly scored off Caelan Doris’ break and pass inside.

james-lowe-and-caelan-doris-celebrate-winning James Crombie / INPHO Ireland were delighted to win in Twickenham. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

It was on the very next attack that Ireland cracked the English. They finally held onto the ball, jabbing away for 13 phases, stretching and fatiguing the defence until they broke. Conway scooted up the right off slick passes from Jack Conan, Hugo Keenan, and Garry Ringrose before Ringrose and Keenan cleared out the breakdown with ruthless efficiency.

Murray swung the ball back infield and Conan surged over for a try that Ireland celebrated with a mixture of joy and pure relief.

The deal was sealed with Lowe’s powerful carry off a maul just before Finlay Bealham smashed over to score with a latch from the influential Tadhg Beirne. That was that.

Was it far more uncomfortable than it should have been? Absolutely. Ireland have plenty of work to do ahead of their clash with Scotland in Dublin on Super Saturday when they bid for a Triple Crown and look to leave themselves in position to take advantage of any possible slip up from the Grand Slam-chasing France against England in Paris.

Ireland’s execution of attacking chances wasn’t as good as it could have been, although they were relatively clinical down in the England 22. Their scrum was a big concern, although you could question a couple of the penalty decisions from Raynal. Their composure looked to be lacking at times, although they showed mettle to finish the game.

The reality is that Ireland have come away from Twickenham with a bonus-point win, with a record number of points scored, and with a record winning margin.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that playing against 14 men is by no means straightforward in rugby. In this instance, it allowed England to focus on a kick-chasing and set-piece dominated game plan that suited them. Red cards often have a galvanising effect and it was always likely that Ireland would have to be patient in pulling clear. 

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johnny-sexton-and-robbie-henshaw-celebrate-finlay-bealham-scoring-their-fourth-try Billy Stickland / INPHO Finlay Bealham crossed for Ireland's fourth try. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland have players who continue to grow and learn on the Test stage. Hugo Keenan was immense on a busy evening for him in Twickenham, James Lowe was excellent at a venue where he had a tough experience in 2020, and Conway had big moments.

Jamison Gibson-Park was creative at scrum-half until making way for the composed Murray, while Doris delivered a rounded showing at number eight as van der Flier worked as hard as ever. 

Beirne is never anything less than brilliant and while inexperienced hooker Dan Sheehan was part of the Irish front row that struggled at the scrum, he was immense around the pitch.

With Robbie Henshaw, Murray, Conan, and Rob Herring providing real punch off the bench, it was very much a 23-man effort for Ireland. 

All of that said, they know they need to be better and acknowledged as much immediately after the game. There was a real sense of realism from Ireland about their performance level.

They now have a superb chance to finish this Six Nations with four wins out of five games and by securing silverware in front of their fans at the Aviva Stadium.

While the one defeat so far away to France did show up some of their weaknesses, there was plenty of resolve in that game too as Ireland nearly produced a comeback win.

If they can finish on a high against Scotland next weekend, this will have been an excellent Six Nations for Farrell’s men. Bring on next weekend.

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