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Ireland 32-18 England: Hosts impress as they stun dismal England despite Bundee Aki red card

Ireland (20) 32
Tries: Earls, Conan Cons: Sexton 2 Pens: Sexton 6
England (6) 18
Tries: Youngs, May Cons: Daly Pens: Farrell 2

Ireland produced by far their best performance of the Andy Farrell era to beat a sorry England 32-18 in the Six Nations in Dublin.

Keith Earls and Jack Conan scored superb first-half tries while Johnny Sexton kicked 22 points with Lions coach Warren Gatland watching on.

Late touchdowns from Ben Youngs and Jonny May after Bundee Aki’s red card did not mask a dismal English display.

Eddie Jones’ side are now set for a fifth-place finish.

Ireland’s win moves them up to second in the table but their final standing will not be decided until France and Scotland meet next week in their re-arranged fixture that will end this season’s competition.

Regardless of their final position, the manner of the win over England, a first in five attempts, will live long in Irish memories in addition to vindicating Farrell’s constant insistence that this is a team travelling in the right direction.

As for England, their lifeless and ill-disciplined display after such an engrossing win over France a week ago is arguably a new low for a side who only a year-and-a-half ago reached the World Cup final.

Six Nations 2021: England finished the tournament better than we started – Jones

Farrell’s Ireland find free-flowing approach

Since taking over from Joe Schmidt, Ireland head coach Farrell has made no secret of his desire to replace a system built on minute detail and structure with a more free-flowing approach.

The ambition has been at odds with some of Ireland’s performances in this tournament, during which they have seemed stuck for ideas and imagination when in possession.

Against England on Saturday they clicked, and in the first 40 minutes produced a display that was by some distance the closest thing we have seen to the swashbuckling style Farrell has envisioned.

It started ominously with all the trademarks of England’s recent thumping wins over Ireland which have seen them dominate the fixture since 2018, namely a Maro Itoje turnover and an effortless drive into the corner that saw England held up over the line.

From the scrum Kyle Sinckler went early, as England’s machine suddenly faltered, allowing Ireland an out.

Keith Earls ran in a superb opening Ireland try
Keith Earls’ sensational try turned the match in Ireland’s favour

Owen Farrell and Sexton traded penalties before a high-risk, high-reward set-piece paid off for Ireland, as Rob Herring’s deliberately overthrown line-out was patted down by Jack Conan straight into the hands of Earls, who showed a stunning turn of pace to step around May and score.

An energetic Ireland, led by the relentless Robbie Henshaw, had their tails up while England’s forwards continued to cough up cheap penalties with Mako Vunipola twice penalised at the scrum, offering Sexton the chance to extend his side’s lead.

With three minutes to go in the first half, Hugo Keenan won an aerial dual with Elliot Daly, restored to full-back after Max Malins withdrew from the squad with an injury, to bring Ireland deep inside the 22.

From there they found quick ball and did not allow England’s defence to set, switching the ball left before a Conan pick-and-go extended their advantage to 20-6 at the break.

England unable to rally after half-time

For all their side impressed, there would have been few Irish fans resting on their laurels at half-time against an England side who have been their chief tormentors in the past two years.

Despite their worst fears, they need not have worried, because England barely threw a single punch.

Two minutes into the second half Daly produced a brilliant chase to win a penalty and again send England into the corner, only for the visitors to give away a penalty off their own throw.

Their spells in Irish territory were brief and they never found the relentless forward momentum that has typified their most unplayable performances under Jones.

Instead they were disjointed and ill-disciplined, turning over the ball and allow Ireland to release any pressure.

Earls nearly had a glorious second, acrobatically grounding Sexton’s cross-field kick only for the play to be pulled back for an earlier Cian Healy knock-on.

Ireland’s breakdown work, highlighted as one of their biggest improvements this year, lived up to its billing with Tadhg Beirne once again front and centre.

Referee Mathieu Raynal sends off Bundee Aki (right)
England scored two late tries after Bundee Aki’s sending off which gave the scoreboard a look which flattered the visitors

They were given a jolt in the 64th minute when Aki’s red card, for making contact with the head of Billy Vunipola, was followed immediately by Youngs darting down the short side and clawing back five points.

But at no point did England look likely to claw back the deficit as Sexton responded with two more penalties.

May’s try in the corner with two minutes remaining was the final act, as both sets of players now return to their clubs to conclude their seasons and make a final push for a place on the Lions tour.

Six Nations standings
France beat Wales in the day’s final game and face Scotland in a rearranged match on Friday where the winners of the Six Nations will be decided

Line-ups

Ireland: Keenan; Earls, Henshaw, Aki, Stockdale; Sexton (capt), Murray; Kilcoyne, Herring, Furlong, Henderson, Beirne, Stander, Van Der Flier, Conan

Replacements: Healy for Kilcoyne 20, Kelleher for Herring 71, Porter for Furlong 64, O’Mahony for Van der Flier 64, Baird for Henderson 64, Larmour for Stockdale 78

Not used: Gibson-Park, Byrne

England: Daly; Watson, Lawrence, Farrell (capt), May; Ford, Youngs; M Vunipola, Cowan-Dickie, Sinckler, Itoje, Ewels, Wilson, Curry, B Vunipola

Replacements: George for Cowan-Dickie half-time, Genge for M Vunipola half-time, Stuart for Sinckler 66, Hill for Ewels 56, Earl for Wilson 53, Robson for Farrell 56, Martin for B Vunipola 64, Marchant for Ford 53

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

Touch judges: Mike Adamson (Scotland) & Craig Evans (Wales)

TMO: Romain Poite (France)

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