Six Nations: Ireland 20 England 32
PUBLISHED: 19:26 02 February 2019 | UPDATED: 19:26 02 February 2019
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England stunned reigning Six Nations champions Ireland to take a giant step towards reclaiming their crown with a first win in Dublin for six years.
Leading 17-13 in an epic opening-weekend title showdown that lived up to expectations, they engineered the decisive moment in the 66th minute when Henry Slade and Jonny May combined brilliantly from a scrum for Slade to touch down.
It was a try made possible by the pace of May, who along with Jack Nowell on the opposite wing was magnificent throughout an afternoon of drama and high-quality rugby.
Saracens’ Owen Farrell was on target with a penalty to put the game beyond Ireland’s reach as the Aviva Stadium was stormed for the first time in the Six Nations since 2013, securing Eddie Jones’ 29th win in 36 Tests.
Joe Schmidt’s Grand Slam champions fell apart in the closing stages, enabling Slade to plunder his second try, before replacement John Cooney restored some scoreboard credibility in the final seconds.
Jones’ decision to retain Elliot Daly at full-back rather than revert to the security provided by Mike Brown was partially vindicated by his involvement in both first-half tries, the second of which he finished by pouncing on an error by Jacob Stockdale.
England bristled with intent when in possession and benefited from the return of Saracens forwards Mako and Billy Vunipola and Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi, the bulldozing trio starting together for the first time due to injury.
After years spent in the treatment room rehabilitating serious groin, chest and knee injuries, Tuilagi’s first Six Nations start since 2013 was especially welcome and his duel with opposite number Bundee Aki was thunderous.
An enthralling victory took a savage toll, however, as Saracens’ Maro Itoje and Kyle Sinckler limped off in the second half.
The speed of England’s ball, combined with a line-out thrown straight to Tuilagi, enabled the Irish whitewash to be breached after only 92 seconds through May.
Tuilagi was repeatedly involved in the early onslaught but it also took an injection of pace and a well-timed pass from Daly to send May over for England’s first try in Dublin since 2011.
Tom Curry was sent to the sin-bin for a late tackle on Keith Earls shortly after Johnny Sexton landed a penalty and Ireland’s slow start was now a distant memory as the green shirts poured forward.
The hapless Earls was then clattered heavily by Itoje as he lined up a catch, incurring another penalty to dent English momentum.
Ireland were showing trademark mastery of keeping possession and this in turn caused ripples of panic in their opponents as the game’s frenzied pace continued.
Cian Healy burrowed over for a try from a line-out that rewarded the bold decision to opt for touch in instead of the posts, but England were back in front on the half hour mark when Daly touched down his own kick following a fumble by Stockdale.
And it was Jones’ men who finished the half stronger, pounding away at the whitewash before winning a penalty which was successfully kicked by captain Farrell.
England began to suffocate Ireland by using kicks and their big pack to keep them pinned in their own half and when the opportunity presented itself they attacked with precision.
One assault broke down, however, when Farrell was on the receiving end of a hard tackle by Ringrose and suddenly they were defending in their own 22.
It proved to be a costly passage of play as Sexton slotted a penalty to narrow the lead to 17-13 before Itoje limped off - soon to be joined by Sinckler.
But England wrestled back control brilliantly and the key try was a work of art.
A scrum gave Slade the ball and he fed a pinpoint long pass to the sprinting May, who kicked ahead for Slade to touch down - timing his onside run to perfection.
Slade then picked off Sexton’s pass as the world player of the year sought to inspire the fightback, before Cooney’s late consolation.