Ireland 9-20 England, Dublin, August 27
England heap woe on Ireland
August 27, 2011
England's Manu Tuilagi makes it two tries from two Test starts with a first half score in Dublin
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England got their Rugby World Cup preparations back on track with a 20-9 victory over Ireland in their warm-up clash at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Tries from centre Manu Tuilagi and winger Delon Armitage along with the metronomic boot of fly-half Jonny Wilkinson saw England return to winning ways following their defeat to Wales in Cardiff a fortnight ago. The result also served as revenge for their agonising Six Nations defeat in March and represents their first success on Irish soil since 2003. An impressive defensive display limited a blunt Ireland to just three Ronan O'Gara penalties and, as a result, they must embark on their World Cup campaign on the back of four straight defeats.
There was further woe for the hosts in the form of a serious-looking knee injury for flanker David Wallace, while No.8 Jamie Heaslip also limped out of the action just two weeks from their tournament opener against the USA. England will also be concerned by injuries to winger Mark Cueto and flanker Hendre Fourie ahead of their flight to New Zealand.
England gave the ball plenty of air in the opening exchanges while their forwards hammered away at Ireland's defence, with Fourie heavily involved. The pressure carried them deep into the Irish 22 but the home side weathered the storm before driving their rivals back to half way where an adventurous drop goal attempt from Wilkinson fell wide of the posts.
No.8 James Haskell was the next to forcibly carve an opening in the Irish defence before quick ball found Tuilagi, who shrugged off a feeble tackle from Keith Earls before powering away to the line for the opening try of the game. Wilkinson found his range with the conversion to cement England's lead with barely five minutes on the clock.
England's indiscipline at the breakdown handed Ireland an immediate chance to reply but O'Gara opted to kick to the corner for the lineout. However, his gamble did not pay off with England able to snuff out the danger with ease. England lock Courtney Lawes was the next to feel the wrath of referee Nigel Owens for a body check on Ireland fullback Geordan Murphy and this time O'Gara sent the kick sailing through the posts.
An impressive power surge from the England pack soon silenced the home crowd and their reward for shoving Ireland off their own ball was a second penalty for Wilkinson that took his side out to a 10-3 lead on the quarter hour.
Back came Ireland with O'Gara kicking for the corner once again, after Fourie was penalised at the breakdown, and while they retained the ball, scrum-half Eoin Reddan gifted an interception to England's Mark Cueto as he looked to exploit some space in the corner. However, the winger was unable to delight in snuffing out the danger as he immediately pulled up with an apparent leg injury to be replaced by Armitage, while Fourie was also forced to retire with Tom Palmer filling the void.
A strong run from flanker Wallace threatened to open England up midway through the half but the veteran left the game on a stretcher with a knee injury soon after following a crunching tackle from Tuilagi and O'Gara's second penalty moments later did little to lift the injury gloom.
A debatable high tackle from Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris on Lawes resulted in Wilkinson's second penalty and there could have been more joy a couple of minutes later after an interception from Tuilagi on his own 22. Ireland fullback Geordan Murphy did well to haul down his club-mate just short of the line but the danger was not over. England recycled the ball in the shadow of the posts only to butcher the chance with a poor pass from Wilkinson to Lawes robbing them of priceless momentum before the final pass to fullback Foden sailed into touch.
Ireland's Heaslip was the next to take his leave from the game to be replaced by Donnacha Ryan while the whistle continued to disrupt England's efforts. Another breakdown infringement triggered a final warning for captain Mike Tindall as O'Gara brought his side back to within four points.
Another penalty against England just before the break saw tempers boil over with flanker Tom Croft and Ireland prop Cian Healy the latest to be warned but there was still time for Ireland to launch one final raid. Winger Andrew Trimble and Ferris edged towards the England line before lock Paul O'Connell knocked on with the last act of the half.
Wilkinson was forced to avert the danger in the opening moments of the second half after Reddan charged down a clearance by opposite number Richard Wigglesworth. But there was no escape a few phases later with winger Chris Ashton shown yellow for England's latest indiscretion at the breakdown. However, O'Gara was surprisingly wayward with the resulting penalty in a major let-off for the visitors.
Instead it was England who struck next with a rare piece of creativity. Forward pressure marched Ireland back into their own 22 before a neat dab through from Tindall was pounced upon by Armitage for his side's second try. Wilkinson's excellent conversion heaped further woe on the Irish.
Ashton returned to the fray just in time for Ireland's lineout to misfire within range of the England line but the visitors were not immune to such errors, with Wilkinson kicking a penalty dead in-goal when aiming for the corner.
The rain that had preceded kick off returned on the hour mark to plague Ireland's efforts to turn the game around with replacement Jonathan Sexton now charged with pulling the strings. Sexton probed the England 22 with boot and ball in hand in the hope of a favourable error but a determined England were up for the scrap.
A charge down from O'Connell forced Wigglesworth into some desperate defence on his own 22 but England survived the scare. Ireland pressed again and earned a penalty at the next scrum with Sexton opting to kick to the corner with a little over ten minutes on the clock. The ball was then shipped into midfield but the impressive pairing of Tindall and Tuilagi slammed the door shut.
Armitage sliced a clearance into touch inside his own 22 to hand the hosts another shot at redemption but it was a familiar story with centre Gordon D'Arcy forced into touch out wide as a result of a lack of penetration. But a mistake from England at the lineout gave Ireland the scrum feed before which Toby Flood entered the game as a replacement for Tindall.
In what was Ireland's final throw of the dice, the industrious O'Connell failed to force an opening before replacement scrum-half Conor Murray put far too much on a cross kick aimed for winger Tommy Bowe.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.