England sign off in style
Lancaster strengthens hand with emphatic Ireland victory
By Mark Kendall - Twitter: @SkySportsMK. Last Updated: 17/03/12 7:22pm
England signed off their RBS Six Nations campaign on a high note as they comprehensively beat Ireland 30-9 at Twickenham on Saturday evening.
The victory - which will further strengthen interim boss Stuart Lancaster's claims to be appointed on a permanent basis - was built on England's forward dominance as they bullied Ireland into submission at the scrum.
Their supremacy up front resulted in a decisive penalty try added to late on by an opportunistic Ben Youngs score, while the ever-impressive Owen Farrell added a further 20 points with the boot.
Ireland, who held the upper hand for long parts of the first half, could muster only three Johnny Sexton penalties as they ended the contest well beaten.
The wet, slippery conditions under-foot ensured that defences dominated a first half in which running rugby was at a premium with both sides offering up numerous handling errors.
England moved ahead inside two minutes as Farrell kicked the first of his six penalties from 40 metres after Ireland - in what was to prove a portent of things to come - were penalised for bringing down a scrum.
Rob Kearney then hit an upright with an audacious drop-goal attempt from just inside the England half, but the visitors were level when Brad Barritt was penalised for playing the ball in an offside position, allowing to Sexton slot over a penalty from just outside the 22.
England regained the lead through Farrell's second penalty on 23 minutes, the young fly-half making no mistake from in front of the posts after Eoin Reddan had been pulled up for illegally hacking the ball away as England set off on a rolling maul.
Ireland paid for further indiscipline five minutes before the break as England stretched their lead to six points. This time it was Rory Best who was penalised for taking up an off-side position as England attacked through centre pairing Barritt and Manu Tuilagi - Farrell again obliged with no fuss from in front of the sticks.
But it was England shooting themselves in the foot on the stroke of half-time as they attempted to run down the clock deep in their own half instead of simply clearing the ball downfield.
Having been stopped in their tracks they eventually killed the ball as Ireland's forwards broke through their platform and referee Nigel Owens blew for a penalty that Sexton comfortably landed.
But the hosts started the second period on the front foot and looked set to record the game's opening try following a rampaging burst from Tom Croft.
The flanker accelerated past Ireland's scrambling defence out wide, but was then left cursing as the greasy ball slipped from his grasp just as he prepared to offload inside with the try-line beckoning.
England's frustration was eased somewhat after the Irish scrum once again disintegrated under pressure at the restart, handing Farrell another penalty opportunity that he gratefully accepted to extend the lead to 12-6.
Ireland responded in kind just moments later after Mouritz Botha and Dylan Hartley were both whistled for not rolling away - Sexton knocked over his third penalty to bring his side within three once again.
But England's dominance at the scrum finally reaped its reward just before the hour as a period of sustained pressure on the Ireland line resulted in the award of a penalty try.
Once again Ireland were unable to deal with the opposition pack and, after they had fallen apart at a five-metre scrum, referee Nigel Owens opted to head under the posts with his arm raised - Farrell slotted the subsequent conversion.
That score seemed to lift England both physically and psychologically as their dominance up front became even more apparent, another one-sided scrum on 64 minutes yielding another penalty that Farrell booted to move the men in white 22-9 ahead.
England killed the game seven minutes from time after an inspired piece of opportunism from Youngs, the replacement scrum-half taking a quick tap penalty ten yards out and nipping in between Jamie Heaslip and Tommy Bowe to dive over for a fine individual score.
There was more to come for the beleaguered Irish as indiscipline led to the award of a sloppy penalty in front of their posts, although England spared them further punishment by opting to allow Farrell to kick his sixth and final penalty rather than choosing a scrum.