Irish take control of 6 Nations with 19-9 win over England
DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland took control of its Six Nations destiny with a 19-9 victory Sunday over England that kept the unbeaten Irish on course for a Grand Slam and extended their winning streak to a team-record 10.
Ireland broke open a try-less slugfest early in the second half as Conor Murray’s box kick found a leaping Robbie Henshaw in the right corner of the in-goal area. Jonathan Sexton’s conversion put Ireland 19-3 ahead. George Ford’s two penalties were all England could muster in reply.
Ireland stayed on course to repeat as Six Nations champions for the first time since 1983 and achieve its first Grand Slam since 2009. The win broke a four-game losing streak against England, which had entered the game undefeated in Six Nations play alongside Ireland.
Both teams’ coaches said the Six Nations trophy remained up for grabs. The Irish face trips to Wales and Scotland, while England plays Scotland and France at home.
“We know Twickenham is a fortress for England. They’ll get their points at home. So we knew we had to get a win today,” said Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.
He said Ireland’s 10-point margin of victory was effectively a 20-point swing in the Six Nations table versus England, a bonus in case both teams finish 4-1 as happened last year. Ireland won the 2014 trophy on points differential despite losing narrowly to England.
England coach Stuart Lancaster held out hope that the same could happen in reverse this year.
“The majority of years, you end up with a team winning the Six Nations who has lost a game along the way,” Lancaster said. “So we’ve got to get as much as we can out of our two home games and hope Ireland slips up. And Wales obviously are still in the hunt.”
Ireland took command early, controlling more than 90 percent of possession in the first quarter of play. Three times Irish attacks ground to a halt on England’s try line, once when Rory Best was held up.
The early Irish dominance resulted in two Sexton penalty goals, offset by an astute Ford drop goal in the 12th minute that cut Ireland’s advantage to 6-3. But Ford hooked his first penalty attempt wide left, and Sexton struck a third to put Ireland up 9-3 at the interval.
England, the pre-tournament favorites with a free-flowing attack, had no solution for Ireland’s virtually mistake-free defense and an aggressive aerial attack directed by Sexton and Murray.
Murray’s lofted kick isolated England fullback Alex Goode, who had position but lost out to a leaping Henshaw. A video review confirmed that the Connacht center grounded the ball in play as the 55,000-strong Aviva Stadium crowd roared.
Schmidt said Henshaw “decided to create something out of nothing. It was an exceptional finish.”
Sexton drilled a difficult conversion from the far right to put Ireland up 19-3 with 54 minutes gone, then was substituted for Ian Madigan.
Schmidt said Sexton was removed as a precaution after reporting pain in his hamstring as he struck the penalty kick. Team doctors had not yet determined whether Sexton would be sidelined for the March 14 game versus Wales.
England attempted a ferocious fightback in the final 10 minutes and twice got the ball over the Irish try line.
But Nick Easter was ruled to have been held up during his 73rd minute lunge across the line. Then in the game’s dying possession, Jack Nowell appeared to reach the left corner of the in-goal area, but referee Craig Joubert ruled that he had received a forward pass.
“The late surge showed what we can do when we have the ball and territory. But in the first half we didn’t have either,” said Lancaster, who lauded Ireland for playing an intelligent game of aerial pressure involving 44 kicks from open play.
“Going down 19-3 gave us a big hill to climb. Ireland managed the game well and deserved the win,” he said.
Ireland has conceded only one try in its first three matches of the tournament. Its defense shut down England’s danger man, winger Anthony Watson, who entered Sunday as the tournament’s leading try scorer with three. Watson often faced two tacklers as soon as he received the ball.
Ireland prevailed in every statistical category, dominating scrums until late in the game. The English committed 13 penalties to Ireland’s eight. England also lost three lineouts to Ireland’s one, as 6-foot-7 (2-meter) lock Devin Toner proved a particularly disruptive force.
Sunday’s victory took the Irish victory streak to 10 straight, a record matched in 2003. Ireland’s last loss was a 10-13 defeat to England in Twickenham in the Six Nations more than a year ago.