Six Nations: England beat Ireland at Twickenham
By Robert Mulhern
Last Updated: 28/02/16 7:46am
England overcame a battling Ireland performance to run out 21-10 winners in a vigorous Six Nations contest in Twickenham.
The hosts were firm favourites to score their third win on the bounce under new coach Eddie Jones, but it took a hugely determined effort to see off a depleted, injury-hit Ireland and move to the top of the Six Nations table, with a Grand Slam still possible.
Anthony Watson and Mike Brown both touched down in the second half after slick passing and bulldozing runs by Billy Vunipola carved open the Irish defence.
Ireland had led through the third quarter when Conor Murray burrowed over out wide and Johnny Sexton nailed a touchline conversion to leave the visitors 10-6 ahead.
But it was a reward built on exhaustive effort and with Ireland emptying themselves, England pressed the buttons on a playbook that should have yielded tries through the first half.
Ireland still created chances and it took an incredible covering tackle from Nowell to deny Robbie Henshaw a try after Sexton sold a dummy from the deep.
But the hosts were growing ever stronger and consolidated their advantage through their bench, despite James Haskell and substitute Danny Care picking up yellow cards.
In the first half, England dominated possession and territory but were short the kind of accuracy that should have rewarded periods of dominance.
Vunipola was immense through the opening 40 minutes, carrying often and scattering Irish defenders often.
He almost crossed in the corner after Ireland dropped their defensive guard when it appeared a lineout maul had fizzled out and, within minutes, Dylan Hartley did cross but he was unfairly penalised for a double movement.
Ireland were hanging on and the chances kept on coming for England - only a strong defending arm from Irish captain Rory Best prevented a certain Haskell try.
Ireland retreated into a defensive rhythm that was utterly committed, often effective, but energy sapping.
Their frantic pace wasn't all on the back foot however. Their first quarter was marked by some slick movement and snappy passing as England's penalty count mounted.
Sexton, singled out for preferential treatment before the match, kicked the game's opening penalty after five minutes before Farrell posted a three-point reply.
Maro Itoje was dynamic and influential for the hosts, but still, the contest was very much alive at the break with England leading 6-3 through another Farrell penalty.
Ireland resumed with intent and with Haskell in the sin bin for a high and late tackle on Murray, Sexton opted to kick the penalty deep into England's 22. The hosts didn't contest the throw and defended the drive well before Ireland sucked deep and surged again.
Then, Murray ducked and burrowed over for the game's opening try.
Sexton nailed the touchline conversion but England responded quickly through a Farrell penalty to narrow the lead to one.
But more scores were coming and England crossed twice in six minutes.
With the visitors stretched by a sublime Farrell pass that released Nowell and sent Ireland back-peddling, England recycled and Ben Youngs linked with Robshaw, who skipped to Watson. The winger dotted down unopposed.
The attacks were now beginning to tell and another of Vuniola's barging runs gave England the front-foot momentum necessary for Farrell to snap an attacking pass into the path of Mike Brown, who swept over on the opposite side to Watson.
Ireland responded through that near miss from Henshaw and the energetic Josh Van Der Flier had strong claims for a try late on, that was overruled by the video referee.
But table-topping England will feel happy with the overall review.