Jonny May scored twice, including one of the all-time great individual Twickenham tries, as England delivered a defensive masterclass to beat an inexperienced Ireland 18-7 on Saturday and make it two wins out of two in the Nations Cup.
The winger’s two scores and two Owen Farrell penalties had England 18-0 ahead early in the second half and they then defended brilliantly until Jacob Stockdale crossed late on to reward Ireland for their worthy efforts.
England top the group A standings on nine points with one game remaining away to Wales and remain on course for a potential competition decider at home against France or Scotland, who meet on Sunday.
It was something of a strange performance from England, who were always in control but barely fired an attacking shot in the second half, seemingly content to display their impressive defensive organisation and aggression as Ireland banged away in midfield.
Nonetheless, it was their fourth successive win over Ireland and coach Eddie Jones acclaimed it by saying “there’s no disappointment and our dressing room is going to be a happier place than theirs”.
“We controlled most of the game, we went in there with certain things we wanted to impose and for the best part of the game we did that,” Jones said.
“In the second half we got a bit loose and a run of penalties meant we had to defend but sometimes that’s just the way the game flows.”
England stuck first after 17 minutes when May leapt high to catch a Farrell kick in the corner for his 30th international try.
Four minutes later he had his 31st – and one of his best – which made it all the more disappointing that there were no fans in place to enjoy it.
Ireland overthrew an attacking lineout and England shovelled the ball across to May deep inside his own 22. The winger tore past Chris Farrell, kicked ahead and outpaced Jamison Gibson-Park in a 50-metre sprint, nudged it forward again over the tryline and gleefully dived on the ball.
May had gone five games without a try but is now his country’s joint-second highest scorer alongside Ben Cohen and Will Greenwood – though still 18 adrift of Rory Underwood.
Ireland, who began their campaign with victory over Wales last week, made almost no impression as Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje all made key turnovers and England constantly disrupted the visitors’ lineout to reach halftime 12-0 up.
Farrell’s penalties stretched that to 18-0, albeit with England rarely advancing past halfway but doing a wonderful job of spoiling Ireland’s challenge.
The visitors did have a lot of the ball but England defended fiercely, with flanker Sam Underhill having a colossal game.
After Henry Slade had brilliantly turned Chris Farrell as the centre crossed the line, Ireland finally got on the scoreboard five minutes from time when replacement flyhalf and former England Under-20 player Billy Burns chipped through for fellow replacement Stockdale to catch on the full and score.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell said the experience had been invaluable as he continues his rebuilding job.
“That England side have been through some massive ups and downs and it’s those down times they’ve learned from most and have helped them become a fabulous side – we’re on a different journey,” he said.
“They controlled the defensive side of their game, disrupted our ball and made us play with slow ball. Of course we needed to be more clinical but we can be proud of that.”