Ireland completed their 2021 Six Nations campaign in style with a convincing 32 -18 win against, defending champions, England at an empty Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The result sees Ireland maintain second place in the championship table with a third place finish likely once fixtures are completed next week. More interestingly it should move Ireland into 4th place in Monday’s World Rankings (behind South Africa, New Zealand and France) should the calculations be correct. Not bad for what I have regarded as a disappointing season with Ireland doing little more than mark time.
Ireland (20) 32
TRY: Keith Earls, Jack Conan
CON: Johnny Sexton (2)
PEN: Johnny Sexton (6)
England (6) 18
TRY: Ben Youngs, Jonny May
CON: Elliot Daly
PEN: Owen Farrell
I’d predicted that England would win this one but I did have the proviso, ” … don’t rule out England self destructing and Ireland responding to the CJ Stander effect, in what should be his last game“, and that’s how it worked out. England were poor and an invigorated Ireland picked them off with ease.
England opened the scoring on the 8th minute with an Owen Farrell penalty before Johnny Sexton leveled the game at 3 – 3 towards the end of a mundane opening quarter, notable only for Ireland starting to get on top in the kick chase and contact areas.
Things brightened up in the second quarter as technical excellence at the lineout saw Jack Conan send Keith Earls through a gap for the Munster man to outstrip the defence in his race for the line. Sexton added the extras and Ireland led 10 – 3.
Farrell pulled back 3 points a few minutes later but Sexton hit back almost immediately and with Ireland picking up a few scrum penalties the visitors looked rattled. Conor Murray and Sexton were bossing the game and a spiraling kick from Sexton, towards the end of the half, caused chaos in the England defence, which ended when the impressive Conan nipped over for Ireland’s second try minutes before the break. Sexton added the conversion and the teams turned round with Ireland leading 20 – 6.
England swapped out a few front row forwards at the break but their comeback never materialised as Ireland continued to work them over.
Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne were monumental in second row with Beirne putting together an exemplary series of games over the tournament. Ireland should have had a third try after the acrobatic Earls squeezed over in the corner but the move was called back for an earlier knock on. As it was Sexton knocked over two penalties to give Ireland a 26 – 6 lead as the game went into the final quarter.
The visitors were offered a route back by an all too frequent act of machismo from Bundee Aki. I’m sure he goes into tackles with Sinitta’s “So Macho” as his internal soundtrack but trying to take someone’s head off with your shoulder is not allowed these days and a red card followed.
Ben Youngs sniped over minutes later and with 17 minutes remaining the score was at 26 – 11 with Ireland a man down. Fortunately, England’s inner daemons continued to torment and they coughed up two more penalties for Sexton to seal the game before Murray was yellow carded on the 77th minute.
England produced a late try against the 13 men with, the always willing, Jonny May getting over out wide, for Elliott Daly to convert, but it was too little too late, Ireland recording a comfortable 32 – 18 win.
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Jonathan Sexton (C), Conor Murray, Dave Kilcoyne, Rob Herring, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan. Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, Ryan Baird, Peter O’Mahony, Jamison Gibson Park, Billy Burns, Jordan Larmour.
ENGLAND: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Ollie Lawrence, Owen Farrell (C), 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, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Jonny Hill, Ben Earl, George Martin, Dan Robson, Joe Marchant
At the start of this tournament I was expecting England and France to cruise through, Ireland to be fighting it out for third place with Scotland, and Wales to be looking for a new coach after a bit of a disaster.
Not much right there, and I’m still not sure which teams were better and which were worse than expected! Crazy tournament!
We’ll have a “Who Did What” for the Ireland team out later this week.