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Matt Dawson: England deserved to beat Ireland by 25-30 points

Six Nations: England beat Ireland at Twickenham to keep title hopes alive

In the end, a 12-point winning margin flattered defeated Ireland rather than the victors England.

By the final whistle, it felt like England were 25-30 points better than Ireland.

Considering it was their first match back at Twickenham since reaching the Rugby World Cup final the afternoon started with a different dynamic, and not the one you might have expected three months ago.

Instead of a jubilant homecoming, England seemed fuelled by a motivation to show their critics how good they are as a team and how passionate they are to represent England after defeats by South Africa and France and a grinding victory against Scotland.

They had the physicality, they had the anger but also, tactically, they were very astute.

Ireland typically defend with 13 men up in the front line and only a couple covering backfield. That means there are going to be opportunities to kick to exploit space.

England ran France ragged using similar tactics 12 months ago at Twickenham and England’s coaching staff clearly picked up on a comparable vulnerability in Ireland’s game.

Even second row George Kruis attempted a grubber kick at one point in the first half.

As the phase started for England’s first try, Ireland had 14 men on their feet with CJ Stander on the floor having made a tackle.

All those standing, except full-back Jordan Larmour, were up flat.

Ben Youngs disguised his kick well, but it was clearly pre-planned with Owen Farrell, George Ford and Kyle Sinckler sprinting into a spirited chase.

By the time Sexton and Larmour were fielding the bouncing ball on their own line, they were under heavy pressure from an arrowhead of England players.

Had Sexton gathered it safely, he would have struggled to get away a convincing clearing kick or run out of defence.

As it was he juggled, dropped and George Ford pounced.

England managed to implement their gameplan brilliantly. It was a tactic they went to again, albeit with a penalty advantage in their back pocket, for the second try when Elliot Daly reached Ford’s chip ahead of Jacob Stockdale.

In past meetings, Ireland’s mastery of the aerial game has been key. Back in 2015, Robbie Henshaw soared over Alex Goode to claim a Conor Murray box kick and score the only try in a 19-9 victory.

But Ireland’s forwards never gave them a platform to really test an England back three that included centre Jonathan Joseph on the wing.

England’s ball carriers – the likes of Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry and Jamie George – won the battle of the gain line, making metres on every carry.

Top metre-makers of starting forwards
1= Tom Curry (Eng) 17 metres
1= CJ Stander (Ire) 17
3 Jamie George (Eng) 14
4 Courtney Lawes (Eng) 13
5 Sam Underhill (Eng) 8

Ireland offered very little, relying on slow-moving one-out runners and it is very difficult to kick effectively behind a forward pack that are going nowhere and a scrum-half who seems to have lost the confidence to snipe around the fringes.

Add in England’s dominance at the breakdown and Ireland were a mile away from competing for the victory.

Itoje keeps the young guns firing straight

Itoje has won 37 caps since making his England debut in February 2016

The introduction of the straight-talking, hard-running Ellis Genge off the bench brought a big cheer from the Twickenham crowd in the wake of his match-winning try against Scotland in the last round.

He, along with hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and fellow prop Will Stuart, brought an injection of energy and intensity in the front row.

In the scrum, where previously there was parity, England started to get the upper hand.

But I think there is still work to be done to make sure Genge in particularly has the cool head needed for life in an international front row.

There was a lot of whooping, hollering and trash talk around the fringes of the match. Kyle Sinckler was giving it plenty as the half-time whistle blew as well.

Maro Itoje would previously have been in the middle of all of that, but he has matured into the guy who is putting his arm around players leading them away from confrontation and getting them to concentrate on making another huge impact, rather than screaming and shouting about the last one.

Cooney deserves his shot at nine

Cooney, who will turn 30 in May, has made just one start for Ireland

Neither of Ireland’s half-backs had a good day.

Johnny Sexton looked rattled from the off. He made a mistake to allow England to score their first try and was woeful off the tee.

He spoke afterwards about the speed of England’s defensive line off line-outs and at one point lost his right boot for a passage of play and which rather summed up his afternoon.

His leg was heavily strapped up so I don’t know if he was carrying an injury, but he will bounce back.

At scrum-half though, I think John Cooney is getting close to supplanting Conor Murray as the first-choice starter.

His performances, both off the bench for Ireland and for Ulster, merit it. He is game-changing, scintillating rugby.

Murray has been a lynchpin of Ireland’s recent success but players want the best team out there so they have the best opportunity to win.

Six Nations 2020: Bad tempers, brilliant interceptions & a clingy Owen Farrell

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Mike Henson

Article courtesy of BBC Sport
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