Sexton shines as Ireland beat England

Date published: March 1 2015

Another commanding performance from Johnny Sexton sent Ireland on their way to a 19-9 victory over England in a physical battle in Dublin.

Ireland were smarter, better disciplined and more clinical throughout than their opponents. Even the scrum, touted as their area of weakness, surpassed expectations as England took too long to get going.

This wasn't the humbling of Cardiff two years ago for England but it certainly was an education for the likes of George Ford and Anthony Watson, talented youngsters who will go far but learnt the hard way this time out with Ireland giving them no time or space.

It was a breakdown and tactical kicking clinic from Ireland, espeically with the way they disrupted England's ball at the ruck. Sexton's all-round play, not just his work off the boot, was really of the highest order. His loss to an apparent hamstring injury after 50 minutes will cause some concern ahead of visiting Wales.

England's relative inexperience hadn't been a factor before Dublin but it showed here, particularly up against the studied approach that Ireland brought to the table. The hosts were by far and away the better side with their visitors showing too many nerves, but Ireland only led by six at the break. There was to be no comeback.

Ireland will now have their thoughts on a Grand Slam although the road will not be an easy one, travelling first to Wales, confident again after winning in Paris, before rounding up in Italy.

Dublin had provided all those heading to the Aviva Stadium with an apocalyptic weather warning, yet by kickoff the rain, sleet and snow was thankfully gone.

England's start was awful, while Ireland were perfectly precise with their tactical kicking as expected. An early nudge from Sexton and his super kick into the corner left Jack Nowell and Alex Goode cleaning up a real mess.

Two scrums five metres out were field position that Ireland had to captalise on, but despite the huge carries from Sean O'Brien and Rory Best they settled for a second penalty and a 6-0 lead after as many minutes.

All the possesion was with Ireland, 95 percent of it to be exact after the first ten minutes. When England eventually got their hands on the ball they did threaten. Jack Nowell's touchline chip set up good field position and after multiple phases Ford slotted a drop goal with a fine strike to put England on the board.

The Bath fly-half couldn't land a penalty from the halfway line after Jordi Murphy failed to roll away, the ball drifting left past the post, as Ireland persisted with putting the boot to ball.

Ireland won the first big gamble of the match when Devin Toner poached an English lineout five metres from the line, Chris Robshaw turning down three points England arguably weren't in a position to miss out on.

The hosts saw the best of O'Brien with his thundering carry but it was sadly to be his last act, stumbling punch-drunk around the field afterwards before being taken off with concussion.

Vunipola's breakdown penalty saved England's bacon but Sexton was excellent shortly afterwards at isolating Luther Burrell, the Racing Métro number ten adding his third penalty of the half to put Ireland up by six.

Sexton's thumping tackle on Ford marked another point to the Irishman but worse for England was Anthony Watson playing the ball from an offside position, presenting Sexton with his fourth penalty opportunity which he surprisingly couldn't convert. That felt like the tale of the end of the first half, Ireland clearly on top but not punishing England any further as the score stood at 9-3 at half-time.

Only greater discipline and accuracy would get England back into the contest but it was Goode's brilliant escape work that avoided any further damage on the scoreboard, running the ball out from behind his own posts with a real touch of class.

Ireland capitalised on their visitors' indiscipline yet again with Sexton refinding his range, turning away in satisfaction long before the ball had passed through the posts. In such a close contest, nine points felt like too big a gap for England to close.

Unsurprisingly Ireland's try came from a chip kick by Murray, Robbie Henshaw working hard to rise above Goode and doing well to ground the ball so close to the touchline. No way back for England from 19-3 down, surely.

Ford added a second penalty as England's scrum started to motor but they would need more than that, Vunipola trying his best to inspire with a long charge upfield unfortunately without any support.

Cian Healy's introduction was warmly received and he instantly did a job at the breakdown along with birthday boy Marty Moore to snuff out James Haskell's carry, limiting England's possession and territory.

Ford's tough afternoon could have been a lot worse had his loose pass been intercepted but some rare multiple phases in Ireland's half ended with another three points for the visitors.

Enjoying more of the ball and with the freshness of their replacements England looked a different threat, in an almost copycat performance to the one produced by France two weeks ago.

Ireland's bodies suddenly looked weary but a big free-kick at the scrum five metres from their line provided some required relief as the clock wound down. The forward pass to Nowell after he thought he had scored a consolation try summed up England's afternoon, with no call made for the TMO or any replays supplied to confirm the call.

Ireland's first 50 minutes with Sexton at the helm proved to be enough for a hard-earned victory. With two rounds to go now, the champions are right in there with a chance to make it back-to-back titles.

Man of the Match: Sexton may have been the difference but Robbie Henshaw was tirelessly effective for Ireland throughout, also scoring his first Test try.

Moment of the Match: The fourth penalty from Sexton to make it 12-3 felt crucial as Ireland moved out of reach.

Villain of the Match: Nothing nasty to report.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Try: Henshaw
Con: Sexton
Pens: Sexton 4

For England:
Pens: Ford 2

Drop Goal: Ford

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jordi Murphy, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Felix Jones

England: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 James Haskell, 5 George Kruis, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Tom Croft, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Deon von Blommestein

by Ben Coles