Jonny May scored two tries, including a spectacular solo effort, as England once again proved too strong for Ireland in an 18-7 Autumn Nations Cup win at Twickenham on Saturday.
England’s fourth victory in a row over Ireland meant they also had won both their opening two Pool A matches.
Six Nations champions England dominated the opening 40 minutes but still only led 12-0 at half-time thanks to dashing wing May’s double, with one try converted by captain Owen Farrell.
But two Farrell penalties early in the second half at a once again eerily quiet Twickenham, with this match being played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus, gave England, last year’s losing World Cup finalists, breathing space.
By the time Ireland replacement Jacob Stockdale scored a 73rd-minute converted try, England had the game won thanks to resolute defence that saw their pack win several turnover penalties.
May has now scored 31 tries in 59 Tests, with only retired wing Rory Underwood (49 tries in 85 Tests) ahead of him in England’s all-time list of try-scorers.
“He’s right up there –- he’s 30 and he’s still improving,” England coach Eddie Jones told reporters when asked how highly he regarded May’s finishing ability.
Both teams kicked off on the back of decisive home pool wins, England thrashing Georgia 40-0 in a dour, forward-dominated display last week when Ireland overwhelmed Wales 32-9.
Ireland, however, were without injured veteran fly-half and captain Johnny Sexton, with Ross Byrne at No 10.
Meanwhile Jamison Gibson-Park kept vastly experienced scrum-half Conor Murray on the bench, with lock James Ryan captaining Ireland for the first time.
– ‘Priceless’ –
Ireland coach Andy Farrell, Owen’s father, said an inexperienced side would learn from this defeat.
“They (England) did a job on us, they controlled the defensive side of their game, disrupted our ball and made us play with slow ball,” he said.
“Some of that stuff out there is priceless for us –- we will learn a lot from playing against a really good side, that valuable experience of dealing with pressure.”
England declined several early kickable penalties before their tactic of opting for attacking line-outs was rewarded in the 17th minute.
Maro Itoje, who impressed at lock, won set-piece ball near Ireland’s line and fly-half Farrell’s well-judged cross-kick saw a leaping May out-jump Ireland full-back Hugo Keenan for a try in the right corner.
Farrell missed the conversion but seven minutes later England were celebrating a brilliant solo score by May.
Ireland over-threw a line-out on England’s 22 and the ball came out on the left to May.
Running from deep, May beat Chris Farrell on the outside and then left Bundee Aki, Ireland’s other centre, trailing in his wake.
May then chipped the ball over Keenan and hacked ahead.
His second kick of the move bounced kindly for May, who regathered and held off Gibson-Park for a fine try between the posts, with Farrell adding the easy conversion.
May then proved himself in defence, hauling down wing Keith Earls to snuff out a rare Irish break.
England almost had a third try before half-time but Underhill, having stripped the ball from Gibson-Park near Ireland’s line, was ruled to have played the ball from the tackle.
Farrell, however, extended England’s lead with two penalties early in the second half.
Ireland laid siege to England’s line but it was not until Stockdale regathered centre Billy Burns’ clever chip ahead seven minutes from time that they had a score to show for their efforts.
England will look to complete an unbeaten group campaign away to Wales next week, when Ireland are at home to Georgia.
by Julian Guyer