England boosted their World Cup hopes with a 21-13 win against Ireland in Saturday's warm-up match at Twickenham. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
RFU director of rugby Rob Andrew raised eyebrows earlier in the week when he said this England side was still two or three years away from reaching its peak. In response, forwards coach Graham Rowntree insisted England could win the 2015 World Cup with the group of players they have, and he will be even more confident of that following this performance.
England will go into the World Cup having won both of their warm-up matches at Twickenham, against France and Ireland, with only the loss in Paris last weekend blotting their copybook.
The Irish, who were ranked No 2 in the world after their convincing win against Wales in Cardiff, have now suffered back-to-back defeats. And while they fielded a mix of first- and second-choice players against Wales in Dublin, the team was at full strength for this Twickenham clash.
England, who finished strongly in Paris last weekend, took just three minutes to open the scoring on Saturday.
Having won a lineout and taken the ball up the middle with their forwards, Ben Youngs went blind and passed to Jonny May, who bounced off Tommy Bowe and then shrugged off Simon Zebo's tackle to score in the left-hand corner.
George Ford nailed the touchline conversion, before Johnny Sexton got Ireland on the board with a penalty.
England, though, continued to dominate and scored their second try when, following a good driving maul, Ford's pin-point cross-kick was collected by Anthony Watson, who did well to out-jump Zebo.
May thought he had scored his second try in the same corner as his first, in the 25th minute, but the TMO correctly ruled the pass from Tom Youngs had gone forward.
England would have been disappointed to go into the break just 12-3 ahead when they should have been out of sight.
While Ford slotted a long-range penalty early in the second half, Ireland looked far sharper, attacking the breakdown and stringing some phases together.
Sexton kicked a penalty, which was followed by a converted Paul O'Connell try that cut the deficit to two.
Both sides had emptied their benches by the hour mark, with England having regained the ascendancy. Twice, though, Sam Burgess, who had replaced the impressive Brad Barritt, knocked on inside the Irish 22.
With 12 minutes to go, Richard Wigglesworth claimed to have grounded the ball on the tryline, but the TMO spotted an indiscretion two phases earlier that gave Ireland a pressure-relieving penalty.
England should have scored before then anyway, but Owen Farrell's poor pass negated an overlap out wide.
Farrell, though, made amends when he slotted two penalties to close out the match.
England – Try: Jonny May, Anthony Watson. Conversion: George Ford. Penalties: Ford, Owen Farrell (2).
Ireland – Try: Paul O'Connell. Conversion: Johnny Sexton. Penalties: Sexton (2).
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Sam Burgess.
Ireland – 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Tadhg Furlong, 18 Nathan White, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Darren Cave.
Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images