Two tries from Jonny May and Anthony Watson helped England beat Six Nations champions Ireland 21-13 at Twickenham to complete their Rugby World Cup preparations in winning fashion.
England secured a morale-boosting 21-13 win over Ireland at Twickenham in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up match to complete their preparations for rugby’s showpiece event in perfect fashion.
After the dispiriting 25-20 defeat at France a fortnight ago, everybody associated with English rugby knew a serious response would be required against Ireland, who have won the last two Six Nations titles and beat England earlier in the year in Dublin.
Buoyed by the passionate home crowd, England got off to the perfect start as a fine back-line move released winger Jonny May, who fought off a couple of tackles to touchdown in the corner to put England on the score-sheet after just three minutes.
George Ford’s conversion and a penalty from Ireland’s Jonny Sexton made the score 7-3 before England struck again, with Ford striking a perfectly weighted cross-field kick for England’s other winger Anthony Watson to gather and wriggle over to put England 12-3 to the good within fifteen minutes.
Despite going into this fixture ranked third in the world, Ireland looked rusty and lacked sharpness, perhaps still feeling the effects of their bruising 16-10 defeat to Wales at Dublin last week, and they were fortunate not to go further behind as Jonny May had a try disallowed for a forward pass from Tom Youngs. Ireland in the end were happy to hear the half-time whistle go with the score line at 12-3, and with the Irish having barely threatened England’s try line all half.
Inevitably, Ireland improved considerably in the second-half. An early penalty from Ford extended England’s lead to 15-3 before Ireland hit back, first from a penalty from Sexton, and then Captain Paul O’Connell powered over from close range to score Ireland’s try. The conversion from Sexton narrowed the gap to 15-13.
At this point, the momentum appeared to have shifted in Ireland’s favour, but England steadied the ship well, defending Irish attacks hard before gaining more possession for themselves in the latter stages. Another try from England was ruled out ten minutes from the end after a breakdown infringement, but two late penalties from substitute Owen Farrell settled proceedings as England impressively closed out the game, finishing as 21-13 victors.
A huge number of questions were asked of England and coach Stuart Lancaster after the last defeat at France, where the 25-20 score highly flattered England, especially when it came to England’s forward pack, which was taken to the cleaners in Paris.
While England were still a little below-par at scrum time against Ireland, their line-out was much better, and their breakdown work was also a major improvement, as they gave away far fewer penalties than in Paris. The back-line is also looking sharper than ever, and the confidence England will have gained from this win could be immeasurable.
Elsewhere on Saturday, England’s World Cup Group A opponents Wales secured an unconvincing 23-19 win over Italy in Cardiff, in a game that was marred by the site of Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny, two of Wales’ most important players, leaving the field on stretchers. Their participation in the upcoming World Cup now hangs in the balance, and Halfpenny in particular would be a massive loss for Wales should he be forced to miss out.
In Paris, Scotland were agonisingly close to beating France, with a 73rd minute try helping Les Blues to a 19-16 win. Scotland have nevertheless shown promise in this warm-up phase, and they will have to make that promise count when it matters when the World Cup kicks off. In a group also containing South Africa, Samoa, Japan and the USA, the Scots can’t afford too many off days.
Amongst the many warm-up matches, Wales and England’s other Group A opponents Australia were given a minor first-half fright against the USA in Chicago before running out 47-10 winners, Japan beat Georgia 13-10 at Gloucester, while Tonga defeated Romania 21-16 in Bucharest.
In a couple of club vs country fixtures, Argentina defeated Leicester Tigers 55-34 in a thrilling encounter at Welford Road, while Samoa completed their World Cup preparations with a 25-19 win over Wasps in Coventry.
The RWC warm-up international phase is now complete. The 20 nations competing in rugby’s biggest tournament now have less than two weeks to fine-tune their preparations before the Rugby World Cup kicks off at Twickenham on September 18 when England tackle Fiji. It promises to be a ball.
England will not be favourites to win their home tournament, but victory over the Irish will have proven to themselves and everybody else that they can compete with and beat the best, and they will have to be on their A-game from the outset, with Wales and Australia to come after Fiji.