Six Nations 2021: Ireland 32-18 England

By Daniel Lewis 21 March 2021 10
Six Nations 2021: Ireland 32-18 England

Johnny Sexton scored 22 points as 14-man Ireland saw off England 32-18 at the Aviva Stadium to end their Six Nations campaign on a high. 

Both sides were out of contention to win the competition heading into the final round of fixtures, but it was Ireland who claimed a third win in a row thanks to first-half tries from Keith Earls and Jack Conan. 

England were given an opportunity to launch a comeback 17 minutes from time when 26-6 behind, as Bundee Aki was dismissed for a high tackle on Billy Vunipola. 

Yet despite Ben Youngs crossing over almost instantly, plus Jonny May adding a late second after Conor Murray was sin-binned, Ireland comfortably saw things through to earn a first win over England in five Tests. 

England were forced into a late back-line rejig as Ollie Lawrence replaced the injured Max Malins, but they settled quickly and took the lead through an early Owen Farrell penalty. 

Sexton slotted over three points to level things up, with the home side ahead four minutes later thanks to Earls' impressive score. 

Conan outjumped Tom Curry at a lineout and popped the ball to Earls, who found a gap and jinked his way past a couple of opponents for his second try of the tournament. 

It was the seventh Test running where England had conceded the first try and, while Farrell did reply with another penalty, Sexton restored Ireland's seven-point lead with one of his own. 

Andy Farrell's side then tightened their grip on the contest before half-time, the recalled Conan applying the finish to a patient move. 

England were given a lifeline when Earls had a try ruled out for Cian Healy's knock-on in the build-up, though Sexton split the sticks following an earlier infringement.  

The fly-half nailed another kick with an hour played but, just when it looked to be plain sailing for Ireland, referee Mathieu Raynal deemed Aki's challenge on Vunipola to be worthy of dismissal. 

Youngs charged over when played in by Jamie George to potentially set up a tense finale, only for the impressive Sexton to keep the hosts comfortably clear with two more penalties. 

May went outside his man to restore some pride for England in the final stages, at which point Ireland were down to 13 men after Murray was shown a yellow card, but there was to be no late twist.

Conan the Great 

Ireland had failed to score any first-half points in their previous two Tests with England, but they were at their clinical best on arguably their finest day under Farrell - not least because of Sexton's imperious kicking. 

But while Sexton will get most of the praise, Conan - recalled to the pack, along with Josh van der Flier - played a key part in Ireland's opening try and then scored the second, justifying his selection. 
Farrell hits milestone in defeat 

The England skipper's two penalties in the first half carried him to the 500-point mark in the Five/Six Nations, a milestone previously only achieved by Ronan O'Gara and Jonny Wilkinson in the history of the tournament. 

Farrell will not take much solace from the personal achievement following this defeat, however, with this the first time since the 1976 Five Nations that England have lost to Wales, Scotland and Ireland in the same campaign.  

Key Opta facts

- Ireland have scored 30+ points against England in a Six Nations game for only the second time, after their win 43-13 in 2007.
- England have conceded 121 points in 2021, more than in any other edition of the Five/Six Nations.
- Ireland are the first team to have seen multiple players getting a red card in a single Six Nations campaign (Peter O'Mahony v Wales prior to Bundee Aki). England, meanwhile, have seen an opposition player receive a red card for the first time in a Six Nations game.
- Johnny Sexton scored 22 points, his best ever tally in a Six Nations contest.
- Keith Earls grabbed his first try against England in the Six Nations since 2010, which was when he scored for the very first time in the competition.

What's next? 

Ireland and England have a lengthy wait before returning to action later in the year. However, there is the small matter of the British and Irish Lions tour before then - still scheduled to take place in July and August despite coronavirus restrictions - with a number of players from both sides vying for inclusion. 

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Daniel Lewis