England were denied successive Six Nations Grand Slams on Saturday as Ireland claimed a hard-fought 13-9 victory in Dublin.
Only one try was scored in the game and it went the way of Irish lock Iain Henderson as the hosts held on for a morale-boosting success.
The result sees England’s run of wins end on 18 as Ireland bounced back from last week’s loss to Wales with a hugely spirited showing.
All of England’s points came via the boot of Owen Farrell and in truth they were massively under-par against an Ireland side full of fight.
Ireland were always going to be much-improved from last Friday’s defeat in Cardiff, especially in front of their fans, and they did not disappoint early on. Johnny Sexton struck on 10 minutes after side entry from England at the ruck and they were well worth their early advantage.
Farrell did level matters eight minutes later due to Ireland not rolling away and the game was fascinatingly poised even at an early stage.
Ireland, who had lost the influential Jamie Heaslip to injury before kick-off, had to reshuffle their squad as CJ Stander moved to number eight with Peter O’Mahony coming off the bench to start on the blindside flank. The tweaks did not fluster them though as they were on top.
Further reason to smile came in the 24th minute when lock Henderson reached out for a try which Sexton converted to make it a 10-3 cushion. And that was the scoreline at the break after a first 40 that Ireland dominated, enjoying 74 percent possession and 77 percent territory.
Eddie Jones was clearly upset with his side’s showing and duly made a change up front as Mako Vunipola replaced Joe Marler at prop.
A stern talking to seemed to improve their fortunes as Farrell reduced the score to 10-6 on 52 minutes and they appeared to be turning the screw in the tight exchanges. Three minutes later Jamie George was the next to emerge, replacing captain Dylan Hartley for the run-in.
However, Jones’ next changes were somewhat a knee-jerk reaction to Sexton sending over a crucial penalty from a tough angle after Farrell had tackled him high. That made it 13-6 so Ireland had pushed England out to two scores from claiming that Grand Slam with 17 minutes left.
Farrell cut the margin four minutes later off the tee after strong mauling work from his forwards saw Ireland enter from the side, and thus we had the grandstand finish back on in Dublin at 13-9. England though, importantly for Ireland, had yet to breach the whitewash in the match.
That pyschological fact seemed to get the Irish over the finish line with their noses in front as they held on for victory that sees them finish in second place, while England, upset to miss the Slam, must settle with the Six Nations title.
Pens: Sexton 2
Pens: Farrell 3
Ireland: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadgh Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Andrew Conway
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jack Nowell
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)