Player ratings: Pure emerald
OPINION: Andy Farrell’s Ireland arrived at sunny Twickenham on Saturday labelled as red-hot favourites by Eddie Jones, the mischievous England coach who heavily brought the bookies into the pre-game narrative to help gee up his side for this Six Nations round four title eliminator.
The Irish coach breezily brushed off the words of his opposite number, instead putting the onus on his own team “to go over there and prove to ourselves there is a performance in there for us that is a step above what we have shown already”.
In the end, the starting team that he named showing six changes from the facile round three win over Italy did precisely that, eventually making bonus-point hay from the numerical advantage that favoured them from the 82nd-second of the fixture when Charlie Ewels was red-carded for head-on-head contact on James Ryan.
Fourteen-man England did fight. They had Ireland’s number in the scrum where they won multiple penalties and managed to draw level at 15-all with 19 minutes remaining.
However, their attack was limited to repeated Marcus Smith garryowens and after Tadhg Beirne stole a 68th-minute lineout on their own 22 having just gone back three points ahead, Ireland swaggered down the finishing straight.
Their “explosive” bench made a huge impact, Jack Conan and Finlay Bealham scoring the tries that added to the first half scores from James Lowe and Hugo Keenan to leave them deserving four tries nil winners on a 32-15 scoreline.
Liam Heagney rates the Ireland players!
15. Hugo Keenan – 8
Predictably recalled in place of Michael Lowry, despite the wee guy’s two-try debut against the Italians, he was safe as houses here for the most part. Showed alertness in defence when tiding up an England penalty advantage, then took an important aerial catch late in the half on halfway and was soon after diving over the line after Ireland quickly tapped a penalty. Ably took a monster Smith kick early in the second half but was caught holding on at the next fetch, allowing England to close to 15-12. Knocked on at a third catch but finished the match strongly.
14. Andrew Conway – 7.5
Another back in the side after a rest, you knew his appetite was voracious when he joined an early maul on halfway and gave it visible heft. Lovely footwork when creating the assist for the ruled out Celan Doris try. Beaten at a restart kick by Jack Nowell in the play that allowed England close to 15-9 down at the break. Excellent touch finder seven minutes into the second period and another 50:22 followed on 63. There was one kicking error, putting it out after ball was taken back into the 22 but it was his shot at the line that heightened the pressure for Conan’s vital score.
13. Garry Ringrose – 6.5
The harder he tried the more error-ridden he, unfortunately, became in the opening period. He was the Ireland player burgled by the nuisance Maro Itoje, his knock-on scrubbing out the Caelan Doris try on twelve minutes. It was also his kick that was called back for a first-half offside against Sexton. Was involved again later in the opening half with Itoje, taking a high shot to earn a penalty. Hung tough, though, amid a claustrophobic second half to go the distance with an eventual smile.
12. Bundee Aki – 7
Nicely played, to begin with, when Ireland was in the early ascendency but his influence faded the more the opening half went on. Another who had to hang very tough amid the second-half English onslaught and he left it for sub Robbie Henshaw to bring the win home after 66 minutes.
11. James Lowe – 8
With his boot exceptional against Italy, Farrell figured it was more valuable to have that than use Mack Hansen. However, it was his clean pair of heels that was initially evident, the winger racing away solo to score with seconds over five minutes gone. He was soon penalised for a holding on penalty for Joe Marchant but Lowe was the player who kicked clear after England made a hatchet job of a maul five metres out. LIfted early pressure in the second half with a canter and make further timely impressions to help puncture the increasing pressure.
10. Johnny Sexton – 7.5
Back in the starting line-up for the first time since the round one win over Wales, he helped lead the charge when Ireland generated their early gallop. However, like some others in his side, that influence lessened and it was curious how the likes of Peter O’Mahony and Tadgh Furlong were having first-half conversations with the referee and not the official skipper. Gave up a sloppy offside penalty for being in front of the kicker. Kept his nerve, though, dusting himself down after one might Ityoe hit to nudge Ireland back in front on 66 minutes and then had the composure to put his team deep in the 22 to chase the bonus-point try.
9. Jamison Gibson-Park – 8.5
Started brightly but then faded for a spell before he snapped back into synch, brilliantly having the alertness to quickly tap and put Keenan in for his try just before the break. Tried to repeat the quick tap trick early in the second half but an Iain Henderson fumble wrecked that opportunity. Kept the tempo high, however, which was so important in helping to drain English energy levels and setting the scene for Conor Murray to flourish in his twelve-minute appearance.
1. Cian Healy – 6.5
With the impressive converted loosehead Andrew Porter out with injury, this was a chance for the veteran to remind everyone he has what it takes as a Test level starter and it was a roller coaster experience. He can’t have been happy with how the Irish scrum got on the wrong side of the referee and yet it was his smartness that foiled the 24th-minute maul that should have given England a score-levelling try at 8-all. Lasted 53 minutes before Dave Kilcoyne came on.
2. Dan Sheehan – 6.5
The biggest game of the youngster’s career, he started it with plenty of polish. He was vibrant in the carry as Ireland looked to quickly exploit their numerical advantage. Then came the pressure where an error was withdrawing his brake foot to give England a scrum free. He also exited on 53, Rob Herring entering the fray.
3. Tadhg Furlong – 7
The “big lump” much admired by Joe Marler and co, he started by being a sweetly executing, in-game passing foil in the middle of the pitch. Started with a scrum penalty win for Ireland but the set-piece then encountered persistent difficulties and he was also pulled for an offside. Also bore the bunt of some heavy-duty England tackling as witnessed by one smacker from Sam Simmonds when the tighthead looked to find Aki near the line in the second half. However, he kept on driving amid the adversity and admirably played 74 minutes.
4. Tadhg Beirne – 8
Knock on in the carry on 20 minutes as Ireland looked to counter after England’s first points, but it was his breakdown grittiness that eventually shone through and there was no more fitting player than him to go up and steal the English lineout on 68 minutes to turn the tide irrevocably in Ireland’s favour.
5. James Ryan – No rating
His game was over less than a minute in after taking a head-on-head shot in a collision with Charlie Ewels. He wobbled when getting to his feet and with play stopped with the clock at 1:22, he was escorted off the medics before Ewels was shown the red card.
6. Peter O’Mahony – 7.5
Farrell enthused on Thursday about how there is so much more to O’Mahony’s game these days than trademark bite and bollock and there was even though Ireland had their work cut out in the back row with Alex Dombrandt a way more muscular presence in the carry than Tom Curry, who he replaced early. O’Mahony went 61 minutes before Conan arrived in to finish the job.
7. Josh van der Flier – 8
Having gone from an originally in-and-out player under early Farrell to now being part of the furniture, he gave Lowe the assist around halfway for the opening try. Was sacked at the maul by Itoje on 26 at an Irish throw gut he was another whose determination to keep at it was crucial in ensuring it was Ireland who eventually cantered clear to their 17-point win.
8. Caelan Doris – 8
Blasted past Harry Randall for his disallowed twelfth minute try in the corner that would have made for a very different game as it would have put Ireland 13 points clear with a conversion to come. Helped puncture English momentum with a 55th-minute breakdown penalty with just three points between the teams and then enjoyed a monster break eleven minutes from time that nearly sent in Murray. An all-round wonderful effort.
16. Rob Herring – 7.5
Arrived after 53 minutes, he was inches short of the try line with the carry that eventually gave Ireland the penalty against Itoje that allowed his team to go 18-15 ahead. Loads of energy and good composure.
17. Dave Kilcoyne – 7
Another 53rd-minute sub. He was penalised at his first scrum to allow England to draw level at 15-all but, as with Herring, he rose to the occasion when it most mattered.
18. Finlay Bealham – No Rating
Only played six minutes but that was enough for him to be the bonus point try scorer.
19. Iain Henderson – 6.5
The first of the four 2021 Lions named on the Ireland bench, he was the second-minute sub who replaced the groggy Ryan. Encountered penalty trouble with England rising to the challenge but momentum eventually swung his way.
20. Jack Conan – 7.5
Thrown into battle with 19 minutes left, he put his recent iffy form behind him with a hefty involvement that included the scoring of the crucial third try on 72 minutes.
21. Conor Murray – 7.5
Played just twelve minutes and will rue not being able to take a likely try-scoring pass from Doris. However, he was lively in upping the tempo in generating the late tries while he was also composed in calling a mark under dropping ball not long after his introduction.
22. Joey Carbery – No Rating
Back in his more regular role as Sexton’s backup and a token introduction for the final moment.
23. Robbie Henshaw – 7.5
His robustness in the collision and eagerness for involvement was exactly what Ireland needed when he was sent on for Aki with 14 minutes left.