|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.
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.
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, their 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.
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.
Ireland: Keenan; Earls, Henshaw, Aki, Stockdale; Sexton (capt), Murray; Kilcoyne, Herring, Furlong, Henderson, Beirne, Stander, Van Der Flier, Conan
Replacements: Kelleher, Healy, Porter, Baird, O’Mahony, Gibson-Park, Byrne, Larmour
England: Daly; Watson, Lawrence, Farrell (capt), May; Ford, Youngs; M Vunipola, Cowan-Dickie, Sinckler, Itoje, Ewels, Wilson, Curry, B Vunipola
Replacements: George, Genge, Stuart, Hill, Earl, Robson, Martin, Marchant
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Touch judges: Mike Adamson (Scotland) & Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Romain Poite (France)