Marcus Smith drop-goal denies Ireland back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slams as England shine

Planet Rugby
England fly-half Marcus Smith after win over Ireland.

England fly-half Marcus Smith after win over Ireland.

A last-ditch drop-goal from replacement Marcus Smith saw an impressive England stun Ireland 23-22 in an absorbing Six Nations clash at Twickenham on Saturday.

The shock result denies the Irish a shot at back-to-back Grand Slams as they came off second best to a much-improved performance from the Red Rose in front of their fans.

Tries from Ollie Lawrence, George Furbank and Ben Earl were added to by a conversion apiece for George Ford and Smith before the latter landed that late drop-goal for the win.

Click here for scorers

The Achilles heel of failing to capitalise on visits to the 22 appeared to be harming England once again and their 8-6 lead was a poor return for half an hour of dominance that produced just a single try for Lawrence.

But they were inspired in the closing stages, soaking up James Lowe’s 72nd-minute try that appeared to have snatched the win for Ireland and then striking through Smith amid a late do-or-die assault.

England dazzled from the start and their first try had Furbank’s influence stamped all over it as he launched the counter-attack and then helped flash the ball to Lawrence, who finished in the left corner.

The early score developed into a full-scale onslaught as inspired England poured forward, directed by Ford and with Earl, Ollie Chessum and full debutant Immanuel Feyi-Waboso making telling contributions.

England player ratings: Ben Earl the hero as Red Rose seal stunning win over Ireland

Bundee Aki made ground with every carry as Ireland’s main weapon but he was swimming against the tide as the white shirts pressed again and a second Lawrence try was ruled out because of a knock-on.

The crippling handling errors and turnovers that led to Scotland retaining the Calcutta Cup in round three had vanished, replaced by players running hard on to flat passes and punching holes in the visiting defence.

Yet for all the hosts’ dominance, successive Jack Crowley penalties meant they trailed 9-8 and as Ireland produced their first sustained attack the fly-half landed a fourth shot from the tee.

England were guilty of inviting pressure when Ford missed a routine penalty and Furbank took the ball into touch, but when their line were breached for the first time in the 44th minute it was because of their opponents’ killer instinct by exploiting Henry Slade’s positioning in the blitz defence to conjure a try for Lowe.

Furbank hit back quickly by racing over in the left corner after slick approach work from his team-mates and suddenly the pendulum swung again.

Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony was sent to the sin-bin for hands in the ruck and England seized their chance, battering away at the green wall through route one until Earl forced his way over.

Ireland player ratings: Under-par showings sees Six Nations Grand Slam dream dashed in defeat to England

Smith replaced Ford and Danny Care came on for his 100th cap but the Harlequins fly-half was unable to stop Lowe with his despairing late tackle attempt as Ireland crept back in front.

Elliot Daly missed with a long-range penalty attempt but there was still time for England to conjure the Six Nations win, Smith splitting the posts after his team had battered away at the whitewash.

The teams

England: 15 George Furbank, 14 Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Lawrence, 11 Tommy Freeman, 10 George Ford, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Ollie Chessum, 5 George Martin, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Jamie George (c), 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Chandler Cunningham-South, 20 Alex Dombrandt, 21 Danny Care, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Elliot Daly

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Ryan Baird, 21 Jack Conan, 22 Conor Murray, 23 Ciaran Frawley

Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant Referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

READ MORE: Steve Borthwick v Andy Farrell: England and Ireland bosses clash in heated half-time exchange