Jonny May's brace and world-class defence give England comfortable win over Ireland

Jonny May celebrates a try against Ireland
Jonny May celebrates a try against Ireland Credit: Getty Images

England marked the first day of the sixth year of Eddie Jones’ tenure with an utterly dominant performance, a fourth successive win over Ireland underscoring the widening gap between the two countries.

Andy Farrell’s side were simply overwhelmed by the brutal physicality of an England side that have now all but secured their place in the final of the Autumn Nations Cup.

The 11-point margin of victory simply didn’t reflect England’s tight grip on the contest.

Two tries by Jonny May in the first half - the second a 97 metre wonder score that began inside his 22 - moved him alongside Ben Cohen and Will Greenwood as England’s second highest try-scorer with 31 tries from 59 caps.

But this victory also came from the utter dominance of the pack, with England’s back row of Sam Underhill, Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola making a staggering total of 74 tackles - more than the Ireland side collectively - while man-of-the match Maro Itoje made 25 on his own.

The statistics told the tale of the contest, with England seemingly content to play without the ball for long periods and sucking Ireland into a dog fight that they couldn’t win. 

Critically the pressure told on Ireland’s line-out, with England winning four of their opponents’ 13 line-outs, denying them the opportunity to score in the red zone.

It was only in the final quarter when the introduction of Will Connors, Iain Henderson, Conor Murray and Jacob Stockdale resulted in a tactical shift, with Ireland moving the point of attack wider and kicking to the space behind the England defensive line, that Jones’s side became a little loose and a concession of penalties saw the momentum move. 

Yet even then, time again England’s ferocity and dominant tackles restricted Ireland to a late try by Stockdale. 

After two relatively nondescript performances over Italy and Georgia, this was a return to the powerhouse form that took England to the World Cup final a year ago.   

“It was a brilliant England performance, building on the gameplan that we want to play - which is a pressure game with a dominant set piece and kick-chase - we had lots of those things and the pack were outstanding,” said May.

“We were in control, but Ireland never gave in and kept going - they are a good team. We don't want to lose and we want to win every week, we take it in our stride, learn and go again.”

The ominous sign for England’s rivals is that when Jones took charge of the side in Nov 2015, it was a side in a slump following their pool stage World Cup exit. In this disrupted first year of his second World Cup cycle, they are already light years ahead, with an impressive framework already in place to build on.

Jones is developing a squad with genuine depth in each position and a power game that will ask the most demanding questions of any side in the world. Ollie Lawrence on his second start may not have managed many dominant carries, but he managed 15 tackles, a significant impact to the defensive stranglehold. 

“Eddie is obsessed with getting better and I think that is shown with what we do,” added May. “We will never get complacent and will constantly try to push the boundaries and push the limits. Eddie keeps us on our toes and wants us to keep improving.

"He wants us to be the best team that has ever played the game, he doesn’t set us small targets, we really do shoot for the stars with Eddie. 

"He drives us hard, but we love working with him, the atmosphere, the programme that we have got, the guys that we have got and we want to keep pushing it. It is awesome to be part of. He gets hungrier every day and so does everyone else.

"We know each time we play is an opportunity and we don't want to miss any opportunities.”

A word here on May. The 30 year-old, who now trails England’s record try-scorer Rory Underwood by 18 tries is arguably the most improved player under Jones and must be a nailed on starter for the British and Irish Lions. 

His game used to centre around his speed, but his work-rate, positional nous and commitment make him ideal to exploit the pressure game generated by England’s forward.

His first try emphasised his aerial strength when he outjumped Ireland full-back Hugo Keenan from a beautifully exected cross-kick by Owen Farrell after England’s line-out maul had forced Ireland onto the back foot.

If there was a training ground feel to the score, his second, two minutes later, was anything but. England had forced a turnover in their own 22 from a sloppy Ireland line-out and immediately counter-attacked, putting May into space and he struck with dazzling aplomb. He rounded Chris Farrell with great footwork, before chipping down field. His space was enough to take him pass Jamison Gibson-Park before his footballing skills enabled him to kick the ball on to the line.

May starts the chase for his second try Credit: AFP

It was a try that would have brought the Twickenham crowd to their feet, but even in the eerily silence of the empty stands, it will surely be remembered as one of England’s best.

May said it was instinctive reaction. “I didn’t have enough time to think about it when it is like that off quick turnover ball,” he added.

"There are just so many feelings and emotions when you score a try for your country - it is such a great feeling, but you have to quickly get back to the job and see the game out. It is awesome scoring tries for England.”

Farrell was able to extend the lead to 18 points with two second-half penalties before Ireland’s late rally.

The result left Andy Farrell with little doubt about the work that must be done in their evolution.  The inexperience of his side’s decision-makers at half-back was laid bare and England’s physicality neutralised key ball carriers such as Cian Healy and CJ Stander. James Lowe also struggled to force his way into the contest.

Both sides had been happy to turn down kicks at goal in the pursuit of attacking platforms but the crucial difference was Ireland’s line-out was simply not reliable enough in the England 22. 

“That England side they have been through some massive ups and downs,” said Farrell. “It is those down times they have learned the most from and become a fabulous side over a decent period of time. We are on a completely different journey. Some of the boys became men tonight.”

Scoring sequence: 5-0, May try; 10-0, May try, 12-0 Farrell con; 15-0, Farrell pen; 18-0 Farrell pen; 18-5, Stockdale try, 18-7, Burns con

Andy Farrell's thoughts

Progress for the young Worcester centre

Jonny May speaks

If you like my moustache you can sponsor it, it's for a good cause. Credit to Ireland, they showed great character as well. I'm happy to get a couple today, the most important of the things is the basics in Test rugby which is what it's all about.I just focus on the process and keep working on my game. We're allowed to leave the bubble tonight and see our families which is quite exciting.

Tackle count

England made 232 missing just nine, to Ireland's 64. Astonishing.

FULL-TIME: England 18-7 Ireland

England steal the lineout, one phase and that's it! May's excellent brace of tries in the first half the difference really with Ireland only crossing late on. Lots for Eddie Jones to be happy about, a win built superb defence.

Jonny May on the move Credit: TOM JENKINS

79 mins - England 18-7 Ireland  

Lots of scrums to finish what's been a convincing win for England. The tackling has been through the roof.

Stuart pinged for an early engage at the scrum and Burns kicks to the corner - Ireland could do with a losing bonus point. 

Dunn comes on for George for the final 30 seconds.

78 mins - England 18-7 Ireland 

Final moments then, Ford also on for England now with Farrell moving to centre. England in possession but then the ball goes to ground. What else can Ireland come up with... no advantage, scrum Ireland.

76 mins - England 18-7 Ireland

Surprised Ireland haven't tried the chip more given how well England's defence has rushed up. Murray clears from a box kick.

Itoje has been named player of the match -  what about May?!

TRY STOCKDALE! England 18-7 Ireland

Burns on for Ireland, as Malins replaces Joseph. Daly moving to the wing. 

Ireland attacking but England's defence holds firm. But that chip from Burns opens England up and Stockdale races onto it, collects and scores! Fine finish. Ireland will not be nilled today. Burns converts.

71 mins - England 18-0 Ireland          

Lineout won by Ireland but then England pressure the maul, Earl forces a breakdown turnover and Ireland are then pinged. A coach killer. Stuart on for Sinckler, Hill for Launchbury too.

Worth noting at this point that Ireland haven't been nilled since 2012 against New Zealand.

England's Ollie Lawrence is tackled by Ireland's James Ryan Credit: AP

69 mins - England 18-0 Ireland         

Ryan takes well under pressure from Itoje. Chris Farrell has carried very well, nearly held up then by Lawrence. Another penalty coming for Ireland, against Launchbury this time. Byrne with a kick, Chris Farrell nearly regathers to score but held up! That was close. TMO checking though. Looks like a great cover tackle by Slade.

No try, penalty Ireland though and put into the corner by Murray.

67 mins - England 18-0 Ireland        

Ireland maul initially and then Chris Farrell has a big run. Penalty coming for Ireland, wide to Earls by Lowe. Another good run by Chris Farrell but back for the penalty, and into the corner go Ireland.

65 mins - England 18-0 Ireland       

England maul for a bit and then kick high, won well by Earls after a juggle. How will Ireland break through here? Hoofed high by Murray but Billy does well. Penalty for Ireland though, blocking by Farrell. Ireland go to the corner.

Bealham and Connors on for Healy and Stander.

63 mins - England 18-0 Ireland      

Herring stopped short, as England's defence regroups. Ireland five metres out. Doris thumped back. Chris Farrell pumps the legs. England penalty! Their breakdown work backed up in their 22 has been unreal, Itoje getting another turnover. He's unreal.

Robson on for Youngs.

61 mins - England 18-0 Ireland     

Free-kick for Ireland, who scrum again. Maybe they'll use Lowe on the crash ball. Penalty Ireland! Against Underhill for playing the ball. Ireland go into the corner. Have to score here.

59 mins - England 18-0 Ireland    

Decent kick by Lowe to pin England back in their half. Stockdale on for Keenan, who's done well for me, tough afternoon. 

George hits Launchbury at the front, England maul, and that's not controlled well by England as Ireland turn it over. Attacking position for the visitors.

Owen Farrell of England makes an early tackle on Hugo Keenan of Ireland Credit: GETTY IMAGES

55 mins - England 18-0 Ireland   

Now England's defence forces a knock-on by Henderson, rushing up, winning a scrum for the hosts in midfield. Box kick from Youngs but Keenan takes that easily with a mark, clears but in-field. High from England, good take by Keenan before Itoje gets him. Ireland clear, well caught by Slade, moved wide to George out on the wing. 

Nice wide pass from Lawrence to Joseph, into the Ireland 22. Mako, nice soft hands for Lawrence. Good attack but Ireland, Doris I think, wins a turnover penalty. Good stand by Ireland under pressure.

PENALTY FARRELL! England 18-0 Ireland

No mistake there either. England pull further away. Ireland need to act, quickly.

51 mins - England 15-0 Ireland  

Through the hands from England before Daly kicks low, no angle for Keenan and May's pressure means Ireland gain very little. England have been so smart in all areas today - their best performance for a while. Ireland ring the changes, Murray, Henderson and Herring all on.

England get a penalty, Ryan guilty of a dangerous clearout, and Farrell eyes up the posts again.

49 mins - England 15-0 Ireland 

Mark called by Farrell running across to cover a kick. Cleared, sent back by Byrne and Keenan does well to win it back in the air. Now Gibson-Park overcooks a kick looking to hit the corner. Scrappy. England's scrum. Mako getting checked, might be time for Genge.

PENALTY FARRELL! England 15-0 Ireland

Good strike by Farrell and England now lead by more than two scores.

44 mins - England 12-0 Ireland

Cleared by Ireland, returned by Owen Farrell with a high kick which Keenan takes well. Gauzere the referee almost got tackled as the TMO - a certain Nigel Owens - intervenes for an infringement by Roux on Underhill for a neck roll. Farrell will take a shot.

Second half underway

And Ireland get a penalty after Itoje is pinged for offside trying to charge down Gibson-Park. Better throw by Kelleher, hitting the tail. Earls carries, now Porter. Farrell hit back by Curry. Wide by Ireland and O'Mahony kicks and recovers very well, into England's half. 

Ireland now up to 10 phases, Farrell trying to round Itoje. Patient phases but how will Ireland break through. Kick from Byrne, fielded by Daly who clears but not into touch. Keenan with a scruffy kick to May who hoofs it into space... but the ball rolls dead for a 22 dropout.

One more time, in case you missed it

Woof.

Crikey

HALF-TIME: England 12-0 Ireland

Ireland with a lineout then inside England’s half - this should be the last attack of the first 40. Put through the hands, Keenan tackled on the far side. Ryan carries well, but now Ireland are going backwards as Earls cuts in looking for space.

Defensively England have been so good. And that’s another turnover, Billy this time. Keenan covers a kick well and marks, he’ll put that into touch and that’s it.

England with a double-digit lead after two quick tries from May, the second an absolute world-class score and one we’ll remember for a long time. England in control at the break.

38 mins - England 12-0 Ireland

Steady lineout from Ireland before Gibson-Park clears. Nice chip from Daly over to runners down the right, after another good run by May, but the ball just beats Lawrence into touch.

Ireland take the lineout quickly but it’s a shocker, Underhill piling pressure on Gibson-Park right on his own try line. Was he carried back over in the tackle? Officials have a chat and decide they need the TMO to see if Underhill’s stolen the ball and if England have scored.

Nope, it’s a penalty for not releasing against Underhill. Ireland can clear. That would have been comical.

36 mins - England 12-0 Ireland

Another penalty against Ireland, on Ryan for playing Itoje in the air. England go back to the corner but Gauzere gives Ryan a chance to chat to his players about discipline. This feels like a huge moment on the verge of half-time.

Won by Itoje at the front with Ryan pressuring him. England maul, the backs are in there, Farrell and Lawrence getting involved. Very well defended by Ireland though, brilliantly in fact by O’Mahony to turn the ball over for a scrum. That’s massive.

34 mins - England 12-0 Ireland

Ireland pinged for not releasing, Gibson-Park guilty, and Farrell threads a low kick into the corner. Danger for Ireland here if England can get the maul going.

32 mins - England 12-0 Ireland

That’s better pressure on England’s lineout by Ireland and they force a knock-on. Good carry by Aki into England’s 22 but again it’s a breakdown penalty to England, Curry pounces. England clear to touch from the penalty.

30 mins - England 12-0 Ireland

England go Lowe’s way again down the blindside, powerful run. England’s rush defence keeping Ireland contained for now. Couple of deep passes see Ireland lose ground until O’Mahony thunders forward. Excellent defence by England so far but Lowe looks lively, as Joseph comes off his wing to make a tackle. Ireland up to 15 phases now.

Best attacking moment for Ireland this half as Earls slips through from a Gibson-Park offload, but England rally and win a breakdown penalty on their line. Killer for Ireland.

27 mins - England 12-0 Ireland

England defend the maul brilliantly and clear. That’s outstanding. Ireland win the lineout at the tail and after an England knock-on, Ireland will get a scrum.

May’s wonder try

26 mins - England 12-0 Ireland

That’s a better lineout by Ireland, Lowe crashing up and now inside England’s 22. Ball goes backwards after a big tackle. Launchbury showing good power to drive Ireland back. Keenan smashed back. Another penalty though, England in at the side (Farrell). Byrne puts it in the corner.

23 mins - England 12-0 Ireland

That’s a suckerpunch score for Ireland to concede. Facing an uphill battle now. Penalty though near halfway as England infringe at the ruck. Looks like Keenan down getting some treatment.

TRY MAY! England 12-0 Ireland

Ah that’s a bad throw, Kelleher trying to hit O’Mahony but the throw’s too long. Now England counter, May doing well and hacking on, May kicks again and scores! That is superb! Outstanding finish from the England wing. Magic. Farrell converts from right infront.

19 mins - England 5-0 Ireland

Ireland with ball around halfway before box-kicking. Must have had 100 of those by now. Ireland penalty, against Sinckler for blocking a man making a catch. Will Ireland go points or corner? They opt for the latter. Lineout coming 10 metres out.

TRY MAY! England 5-0 Ireland

George hits Itoje, maul in the middle. Ireland disrupt well, ball lost but goes backwards. Lawrence with a carry, May wants it out wide. Forwards having a crack first though. Now Farrell kicks cross-field for May, who scores! Beat Keenan in the air and finishes well.

Farrell can’t convert from out wide.

16 mins - England 0-0 Ireland

England turn to the maul, which worked well last week with George grabbing a hat-trick. Another penalty coming and they go back to the corner.

14 mins - England 0-0 Ireland

Penalty England! Strong scrum and from there Farrell puts it in the corner. Kelleher popped up quickly in the middle. Big chance here for the hosts with a lineout about 10 metres out.

13 mins - England 0-0 Ireland

Farrell with a high kick which is taken by Earls on the far side, but then knocks on in a tackle from Joseph. England with a scrum about 40 metres out.

11 mins - England 0-0 Ireland

Farrell then penalised for taking out Keenan in the air and Ireland can clear after surviving that period of pressure. Touch found just inside England’s half.

Throw from Kelleher though is not straight - which will frustrate the Irish coaching staff. England’s scrum on halfway.

10 mins - England 0-0 Ireland

Quick lineout and a good crash run from Lawrence. Now wide to May, who has swapped with wings with Joseph in attack as we saw happen against Georgia. Penalty England and Youngs goes quick, Ireland blocking a pass to George and Ireland clear only as far as May. Grubber kick from Farrell then rolls dead. England turning down the points but George was almost in.

7 mins - England 0-0 Ireland

O’Mahony needed a bit of treatment after that passage but is good to carry on. Irish scrum and they get a free-kick, England engaging early. Scrum again.

Good drive from England and Doris is scragged at the back, Ireland keeping possession. Gibson-Park with a low kick, fielded by Daly. England deep in their half, Billy with a carry before Youngs clears - great take by Keenan coming up from full-back, but, it’s an England penalty against Aki at the breakdown. Farrell finds touch outside Ireland’s 22.

4 mins - England 0-0 Ireland

Daly clears to touch, Irish lineout 30 metres out. Aki crashes up off the lineout. Byrne threads a kick to the corner, covered by May who puts Daly under pressure with a pass behind the try line before England clear, just. Returned by Lowe but England get the ball back and Youngs kicks long.

Cagey start so far. Byrne charged down, falls to Lowe to mop up. Gibson-Park with a box kick, ball comes back England’s way near halfway after being missed by Daly. Poor carry through by Billy Vunipola, knocking on and it’s an Irish scrum.

2 mins - England 0-0 Ireland

A few phases for Ireland around halfway, before Byrne kicks high. Taken by May. Now Youngs kicks but it’s deflected, Ireland ball. Gibson-Park kicks high now and Earls wins it back well, near England’s 22. Cross-field kick from Byrne for Lowe but that’s marked easily by Daly.

Kick-off!

Ross Byrne with the honours, kicks deep and gathered by England before a Youngs box kick.

Out come the teams

Huge moment for James Ryan, captaining his country for the first time. A certainty you would think for the Lions tour next year.

Ten minutes to go

Prediction wise, leaning towards England by nine given their settled pack and recent record against Ireland. Let’s hope it’s open with plenty of points.

Eddie Jones speaks

“We want to keep improving. The elements of the game sometimes decide where have to improve. I know Ireland are a tough team, always have done. When they have been successful they have ground away, tough in the air. We have skilful back-rowers in the air, are smaller back-rowers are good jumpers and they might need to be called on today [in the lineout].”

Landmark for Launchbury

 

Insight on England’s selection

Charlie Morgan has picked apart England’s XV. What to expect from Sam Underhill and Jonathan Joseph in particular.

“After recovering from a knock, Joseph slots back in on the right flank. More accurately, though, he will be operating as a roaming blindside wing. Nine months ago, when Ireland came to Twickenham, the Bath man crept in-field to pick up a touch at third-receiver behind Ford and Farrell:”

England and Ireland combined XV

Mick Cleary goes through the two sides to pick out a combined selection. Which team edges it?

 

A late change for Ireland

Ed Byrne has been ruled out, meaning John Ryan comes onto the bench.

 

Ireland are here

 

Late drama for England Women

Emily Scarratt - who else - stepped up to nail the winning kick as England defeated France earlier at Twickenham.

 

Two very different centres

Henry Slade’s playmaking ability up against the power of Bundee Aki - it should make for an interesting matchup in midfield. Here’s Maggie Alphonsi on the midfield duel.

“The Irishman is perceived as somewhat one-dimensional, with his ball-carrying ability not necessarily matched by his distribution skills. The question is whether his job is to help shift the ball or to punch holes in the opposition defence and suck defenders in, creating space for others out wide. If he does the latter it is easy to forgive his limitations with the former.”

Ireland’s ‘United Nations’

Eddie Jones took a small pop at Ireland this week referencing the number of starters in their side born in other countries, which seems a bit rich given how much England rely on the Vunipolas.

Here’s Austin Healey’s take on the changing Ireland XV. 

"What that selection tells me is that Ireland must be a nice place to live. Players go there probably not expecting to stay that long, thinking they are going to get wet. But Guinness can do strange things to you and make you appreciate the weather, even if it is not sunshine and humidity.”

All set for the big one

Afternoon everyone. This feels like the biggest fixture we’ll get in the entire Autumn Nations Cup and we’re only in week two.

England have gone as full strength as possible, rolling out their best pack at the moment, but the main bit of intrigue is Ollie Lawrence, the Worcester centre who after run-outs against Italy and Georgia faces a significant step-up today against the Irish midfield of Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell.

The young back has impressed Eddie Jones over the past few weeks and offers plenty of power and pace in that outside centre channel.

The good news is that unlike last week, when the heavens opened over Twickenham and left England relying on their maul against Georgia rather than flinging the ball wide, today we should be able to see some width without as many handling errors.

Ireland took care of Wales convincingly last Friday without actually producing anything overly exceptional themselves, although the combination from Caelan Doris and James Lowe for the game’s final try, Lowe’s first in an Irish shirt making his Test debut after qualifying on residency, was well worked. 

Both of those players have come into the picture this year under new head coach Andy Farrell and along with another new face, Jamison Gibson-Park at scrum-half, highlight the way Ireland are subtly changing their game, moving away from the territorial, carry-heavy approach we saw Ireland implement so well under former head coach Joe Schmidt, and turning now to more dynamic play makers.