A cagey, physical confrontation between two title contenders ended with a 13-10 victory for England in an entertaining Test.
A cagey, physical confrontation between two title contenders ended with a 13-10 victory for England in an entertaining Test at Twickenham.
Ireland arrived bursting with confidence but were more or less contained in the opening half, as England failed to capitalise on territory and possession.
Closer to a game of chess, the tension in both team's performances was impossible to ignore. This was Ireland's first trip away from Dublin in the Joe Schmidt era and they met their match in the contests regarding aggression and skill.
For Ireland the dream of a second Grand Slam in five years is over. England's title hopes are alive. The hosts' young warriors – Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Jack Nowell – played beyond their years.
England's start was bright, showing composure and patience beyond the number of their caps as Mike Brown slipped out of Rory Best's tackle to put them on the front foot.
It should have ended in a score, yet didn't. Jonny May, with Jack Nowell outside, knocked on thanks to a timely tackle from Andrew Trimble to hand Ireland an early reprieve.
England's early aggression was noteworthy but the penalties went Ireland's way, first at the scrum and then at the breakdown to end dominant England phases in the Irish half.
Ireland's attack though was in full flow when Jonathan Sexton wasn't under siege – sending a cross-field kick over into the bread basket of Andrew Trimble before England regathered to snuff out the threat.
Owen Farrell avoided further punishment for a late hit on Conor Murray than a penalty – the game entering the second quarter without any points but proving entertaining nonetheless.
When Courtney Lawes was taken out at the lineout Farrell landed England's first points with a 47-metre penalty. Far from the finest of strikes, on the basis of the opening 25 minutes England probably deserved their lead.
And though they may have led on the scoreboard the game was poised on a knife-edge. A second Farrell penalty would have let England breathe a little easier, only for the wind to swirl it onto the left post.
The loss of Billy Vunipola was a further blow to England's chances as Ireland searched for some continuity in their game, but the dominance shown against Wales had deserted them. Too often fine pieces of play were cut short by minor errors.
A careless offside from Andrew Trimble saw Farrell pop the ball into the corner as England looked to make a statement before half-time. It wasn't to be as Ireland forced the knock-on from Burrell, Sexton clearing to touch with England narrowly ahead 3-0 at the interval.
Ireland began the second period with the necessary bang. Rob Kearney screamed through a gaping hole on an inside ball that left even Irish fans in the ground in disbelief, such was its simplicity. A slip from England and the lead was all Ireland's now.
England momentarily were thrown. Persistent penalties marched Ireland from their own 22 to deep into English territory, Sexton's astute chip forcing May and Brown into sixes and sevens.
It was a period of pure control reminiscent of the 80 minutes Ireland produced against Wales, and it ended with a score – Sexton's three-pointer stretching the lead to 3-10.
Score again and Ireland might have never looked back, but England now had the impetus. Danny Care's high-risk philosophy worked for them in Paris and they added a second penalty from Farrell to cut the gap to four.
They then split Ireland open up the middle. Brown's break on an inside ball from Chris Robshaw saw him fly into open space, having the composure and timing in his pass to release Care for a try made at Harlequins and sending England back ahead.
Equals more or less throughout, England's 13-10 lead heading into the final ten minutes never fully looked secure.
Ireland built phases and tried to twist and turn England's defence in search of an opening, but there simply wasn't one to exploit. Joe Launchbury's tap tackle was a lifesaver – Jonny May's clearance made the whole of Twickenham erupt.
Naturally Ireland still had a chance, as Brian O'Driscoll limped from the field in his 139th record-equalling Test. It wasn't to be, the Irish maul for brought to a shuddering halt as England came of age.
Man of the Match: Care was influential but Mike Brown was truly exceptional for England, a running threat as ever and kicking brilliantly.
Moment of the Match: England's try was enormous, coming right off the back of Farrell's penalty.
Villain of the Match: Nothing nasty to report.
Pens: Farrell 2
For England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 David Attwood, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 George Ford, 23 Brad Barritt
For Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Issac Boss, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referees Romain Poite (France), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
by Ben Coles at Twickenham