2 Mar 2015

Ireland take step towards Six Nations title

8:14 am on 2 March 2015

The defending champions Ireland took a major step towards retaining their Six Nations rugby title with a 19-9 victory over England in Dublin to become the only side to win their opening three games.

The Ireland rugby coach, New Zealander Joe Schmidt.

The Ireland rugby coach, New Zealander Joe Schmidt. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Both sides were unbeaten going into a game billed as a potential title decider.

First-five Johnny Sexton kicked the hosts into a first-half lead before an acrobatic try from second-five Robbie Henshaw sent Ireland travelling to Cardiff dreaming of a grand slam.

Ireland, who equalled their longest ever winning stretch with a 10th successive victory, play Wales in Cardiff on March 14th before facing Scotland at Murrayfield a week later.

The Ireland coach Joe Schmidt says after seeing England against Wales, they knew they were going to come back at them in the second half.

"But we dug deep and managed to keep them off our line ... we do rely on our half backs a lot, they move us around in the right manner and find space."

Ireland bossed the game from the start and a turnover on England first-five George Ford within 30 seconds of kick off set the tone.

Sexton kicked two early penalties and Ireland were unlucky not to come away with more when hooker Rory Best was held up on the line.

England settled and Ford cut the deficit with a drop goal, but missed a chance to level with his first penalty.

Ford opted to find the corner with his attempt but lock Devon Toner robbed the lineout and it was Ireland who struck next with a third Sexton penalty.

A clearly pumped up Sexton showed Ford who was in charge minutes later when the young England first-five dared to try a dummy on his opposite number, only to be dumped on his back.

Ireland had scored only two tries to England's eight in the opening two games and appeared to be missing the accuracy in the final third Schmidt had called for.

The opening five minutes of the second period were more open than the entire first 40 as Sexton edged the home side further ahead with another penalty.

As England's penalty count ticked up, Ireland attacked relentlessly and with another penalty in the offing, halfback Conor Murray kicked into the corner for man of the match Henshaw to field magnificently and touch down.

Sexton added the most difficult of conversions to make it 19-3 but joined a concussed openside Sean O'Brien on the bench, holding his hamstring.

Ford replied with two penalties but, despite late pressure, it was a day to forget for England.

England next host Scotland before their final game against France at Twickenham.

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