Either of these sides could yet win this season’s Six Nations title – although a resurgent France are the favourites after their win in Wales on Saturday – but England were so far ahead at 24-5 up going into the final quarter that they coasted through the closing stages and missed out on a try-scoring bonus point.
That will not worry head coach Eddie Jones who sniped post-match: “I don’t need vindication, I pick the team I think is right; at half-time, if it was a cricket game, we could have declared.” The same goes for Owen Farrell, the England captain who got one over his dad Andy, the Ireland head coach. Farrell junior complained of punching in a scuffle with Ireland’s No 8 CJ Stander when really they were slaps to the midriff, but all the important blows were landed by England with their first-half tries by Ford and Elliot Daly, embellished by another from substitute hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie from a rampant line-out drive on the hour.
The home crowd who had not seen their heroes in the flesh since England’s World Cup finished in the final loss to South Africa in Japan 16 weeks ago thrilled to the carrying of Courtney Lawes and spectacular defence shooting out of the line by Maro Itoje which quickly negated any worries brought by Jones selecting several players out of position.
England’s scrum had been a positive feature of the loss in France and weather-affected win in Scotland with which they opened this Six Nations and it continues to look a fearsome weapon even if the line-out is not always so secure.
The returning Manu Tuilagi served notice of the challenge being served to Ireland with an early bust up the middle and a try was on until Lawes knocked on in a tackle by Devin Toner.
But England were heeding Jones’ midweek call to start fast in Formula One fashion and Lawes put his pedal to the metal with a strong carry before Youngs, who had been benched against the Scots, dabbed a grubber down the middle. Ireland’s captain Johnny Sexton juggled the ball from one hand to the other but couldn’t hold it, and Ford raced in to dot down and Farrell converted for 7-0.
Sexton suffered a dreadful penalty miss, 14 minutes in, as Ireland played into a stiff breeze, then Pete O’Mahony rescued Ireland from another hazardous spot by stealing a line-out from Lawes. But Ford had insisted England felt in good shape while beating Scotland two weeks ago, to the level of the spectacular World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand, and Jones said his team were training to that pitch too.
In the 25th minute a clearly confident Ford used a penalty advantage as he chipped low over the Irish defence, Jacob Stockdale made a hash of shepherding the ball to safety, and the big wing was barged aside by Daly as England’s full-back collected his sides second try. With Farrell’s conversion plus a penalty for offside just before half-time, it was 17-0.
England had Bundee Aki’s number in midfield, swamping the Ireland playmaker with Itoje timing his tackling lunges with devastating effect.
Ireland made a decent start to the second half and centre Robbie Henshaw scored from a nice, flat miss-pass by scrum-half Conor Murray, although Sexton was off-target again with the conversion.
Then England unleashed a great scrum, launched from a collectively low angle, which scattered the Irish. From the resulting penalty and Joe Launchbury’s line-out catch, a dynamic maul rolled to the short side and Launchbury’s fellow replacement Cowan-Dickie rolled over the line. Farrell’s conversion gave England a three-score margin and a team that had lost only twice in 25 matches at Twickenham under Jones was not going to throw that away.
Ireland made a couple of rallying breaks, and must surely give Ulster’s super-sharp scrum-half John Cooney a run against Italy next time out, then pick between him and Murray for the last-day trip to face a France team likely to be playing for a Grand Slam.
England need to beat Wales at home on Saturday week, and hope Scotland or the Irish turn the French over in order to retain a shout of winning the Six Nations title.