6N: England humbles unbeaten Ireland to stay in title hunt
LONDON (AP) — England finally turned up in the Six Nations and denied Ireland at least the triple crown and grand slam in an impressive 24-12 victory at Twickenham on Sunday.
Hyping itself before the tournament to become the greatest rugby team ever, England was humbled by France and barely subdued Scotland. England sought a statement win in its first appearance at home and delivered its best performance since the Rugby World Cup semifinal win over New Zealand in October.
With 10 minutes to go, coach Eddie Jones made his own statement by going to the field and shaking the hands of all the starters he’d replaced.
England so utterly dominated that the scoreline flattered Ireland. The outcome was as good as certain by halftime, when England led 17-0. England finished with three tries to two but was tactically and technically in another class.
“If it was a cricket match we would have declared at halftime,” Jones told BBC Radio.
He added, “They were outstanding in that first 40 minutes. We put Ireland to the sword.”
The result meant England remained in the title hunt, as did Ireland, which came to Twickenham with high hopes after beating Scotland and Wales.
England will have a triple crown shot, instead, with Wales next in two weeks followed by Italy.
England captain Owen Farrell said their lackluster start to the championship only frustrated them.
“We know what we are capable of,” Farrell said. “We are unbelievably happy with how it is going in-house. We feel we are getting better and couldn’t wait to get out against a proper opponent like Ireland.”
Ireland didn’t learn from the thrashings it took from England last year at Lansdowne Road (32-20) and Twickenham (57-15). Three times in a row, England has been out of the blocks quicker and outmuscled and outsmarted them.
Ireland has Italy next, then France, which was the only unbeaten team after three rounds and the new championship favorite.
England suffocated Ireland by dominating the gainline, its line speed making Ireland backpedal and forcing errors. England pressure in the air initially, then on the ground, stressed the Irish to the point they cracked, and halftime came as a relief.
“Looked a bit silly at times,” Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton conceded.
Tadhg Furlong, rated the world’s best tighthead, conceded a scrum penalty to England’s Joe Marler, propping for the absent Mako Vunipola.
Without a platform from their pack, veteran halves Conor Murray and Sexton struggled merely to be ordinary.
Murray, so accurate in the first two rounds, made two aimless box kicks and had a third charged down. It was no surprise when he was the first Irish player to be an unforced substitution. Sexton always had white shirts in his face, his kicking was awful, and he gave away a try and penalty to England.
The first half couldn’t have gone any better for the home side, and it was no surprise England scored first, second and third.
But the Irish were angered that both tries came from kicks they appeared to have safely covered.
An expert grubber by scrumhalf Ben Youngs from a ruck on the Ireland 22 bounced wickedly, Sexton bobbled it in goal, and the chasing George Ford only had to press it down.
Then a Ford chip was allowed to bounce in the in-goal by Jacob Stockdale, and Elliot Daly shoved him aside to reach the ball first.
With Farrell’s conversions, England was 14-0 up after 25 minutes.
Sexton’s penalty conceded just before the break was slotted by Farrell and England was in total control.
Ireland had spent only 31 seconds in the England 22.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell didn’t make any changes at halftime. He urged the players to have “some proper belief.” They used a penalty against Farrell to continue an attack which finished with center Robbie Henshaw burrowing over between Farrell and Tom Curry.
But England quickly restored its mastery of the match, destroyed an Ireland scrum to regain possession, and set up a lineout maul from which replacement hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie was carried over.
Ireland finished with a converted try for replacement prop Andrew Porter, his first in test rugby, in injury time, but it was small consolation.
“As disappointed as we are, we’re still in with a chance to win the competition,” Andy Farrell said. “We dust ourselves down, we don’t feel sorry for ourselves for too long, and see what we can do against Italy. If we perform well then maybe we can take it to the last weekend.”