A Hansen win for Ireland over England

20 August 2023

A Hansen win for Ireland over England

Joy for Ireland before they set off for Frannce with a 29-10 win over England with Connacht's Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen crossing over for a try each in the game.

In their final home match before the Rugby World Cup, Andy Farrell's men made it a record-equalling 12 straight wins - Ireland previously achieved the feat in 2017-2018. It is also the first time they have won four Tests in a row against England since 2004-2007.

Tries from centres Bundee Aki (8 minutes) and Garry Ringrose (38) gave the hosts a hard-earned 12-3 half-time lead. George Ford landed the first of his two penalty attempts for England.

Both teams probed with the boot, with the Irish back-three, in particular, dealing well with England's aerial bombardment, while the visitors had some success in disrupting Ireland's efforts to launch off their lineout.

Head coach Farrell admitted it was a mixture of 'the good, the bad and the ugly' afterwards, but an improved second half performance was all that mattered as his side ran out five-try winners.

Billy Vunipola's yellow card for a high tackle on Andrew Porter was upgraded to a red, meaning England were down to 14 men for the final half an hour.

The Grand Slam champions were out of reach by the 64th minute as wingers James Lowe and Mack Hansen, whose impressive efficiency earned him the Bank of the Ireland player-of-the-match honour, went over in either corner.

Despite Kyle Sinckler getting England into double figures, Earls fittingly had the final say as he plucked down an Aki pass to run in his 36th try, almost 15 years on from his debut score against Canada.

The only injury concern was hooker Dan Sheehan who came off just before the break. "Dan's lost a bit of power in his foot," explained Farrell. "We won't know until we get it looked at, scanned or whatever, so we'll probably know more in the morning."

Earls, Irish Rugby's ninth centurion, was accompanied by his three daughters, Ella-May, Laurie and Emie, as he was given a rousing reception from the home fans before both teams emerged from the tunnel.

Twelve of Ireland's starters were making their seasonal debuts, while there was a first international start for Connacht's Cian Prendergast in the number 8 position.

There was no doubting this was a full-blooded Test match when Elliot Daly and Ringrose both landed bone-crunching tackles early on. Ford split the posts in the fourth minute after Tadhg Beirne was slow to roll away.

Hugo Keenan had to react sharply to cover a kick chase launched by Ford, and as the keenly-contested kicking battle developed, Lowe made almost 60 metres with a thumping touchfinder from near the Irish line.

Lowe was soon gaining ground as a ball carrier as Ireland countered quickly from an English kick. Moving the ball back infield, Josh van der Flier's deftly-delivered pass to Peter O'Mahony led to the game's opening try.

O'Mahony broke in between Ellis Genge and Will Stuart, charging up towards England's 22 and connecting with the supporting Aki who evaded Ben Youngs' attempted tap tackle to score behind the posts.

Following Ross Byrne's straightforward conversion for a 7-3 lead, Prendergast redeemed himself with some aggressive defence having been initially stripped of the ball from the restart.

His provincial colleague, Hansen, hoovered up a number of high balls and stepped in menacingly off his wing, although a penalty for obstruction at a lineout robbed the Irish pack of a promising position.

Ford flung a 40-metre penalty wide before England, who had beaten Ireland in World Cup warm-up fixtures in 2011, 2015 and 2019, continued to pressurise the Irish lineout and disrupt their rhythm.

Prendergast, Beirne and van der Flier returned fire at the breakdown, often making it scrappy ball for Youngs. The hosts' accuracy in attack was slightly off, with a loose Byrne pass giving England a chance to clear from a penalty.

England's own error count increased, though, and a scrum penalty, which preceded Sheehan's withdrawal, teed up Ireland for a strong finish to the opening 40 minutes.

Slick hands from Ringrose, Lowe and Keenan led to Prendergast crashing up into the 22. They let the ball do the work again to find O'Mahony in space out wide, before Hansen's right boot exposed England on the opposite wing.

Ringrose gathered the winger's cross-field kick and stepped inside to attack the space between the covering Freddie Steward and Daly. Neither could prevent him from scoring, with a big hand-off on Daly helping to propel him over the whitewash.

Nine points remained the difference with Byrne's conversion attempt going wide. Although England lost early momentum on the resumption with a Ford knock-on, they managed to thwart two more Irish lineouts.

The men in green were making inroads from further out when number 8 Vunipola's right shoulder made contact with Porter's head. The TMO review landed him in the sin bin before the TMO bunker elevated it to a red card.

Ireland were soon 17-3 to the good, building patiently with captain James Ryan, Tadhg Furlong and van der Flier all getting away from defenders. Byrne's long pass released Lowe to go over untouched, with the former hitting the near post with the conversion.

A clash of heads between Aki and Lowe prompted Earls' entry onto the field to rack up his century of international caps. The crowd rose to their feet to salute the Moyross man, who came on along with Jack Crowley.

Another replacement, Finlay Bealham, forced a turnover penalty and Ryan put boot to ball after it had gone loose from an English ruck. The home side duly got back on the front foot and made the possession count.

Playing with a penalty advantage close to the English posts, Prendergast and Jamison Gibson-Park linked neatly before Byrne passed wide to Hansen who cut inside Steward for his seventh score in 15 Tests.

Some loose Irish passing invited England forward, and after Danny Care went quickly from a scrum penalty, fellow replacement Kyle Sinckler had Maro Itoje in support as he burrowed over beside the posts.

Those seven points were cancelled out almost immediately, as Joe McCarthy dug out a well-won turnover and Kildare man Prendergast was alert to it.

Van der Flier piled through into the 22 before Aki slung out a high pass which took out three defenders and set up Earls for an acrobatic finish in the left corner. He was too quick for Steward, Care and Marcus Smith.

Crowley's drilled conversion stayed inside the near post to ultimately seal a 19-point winning margin. McCarthy's maul defence earned him plaudits late on, while England also failed to follow through on breaks by Smith and Theo Dan.

Farrell is taking the current extended Ireland squad to Biarritz tomorrow before they move on to Bayonne, the venue for their final World Cup warm-up encounter with Samoa next Saturday night (kick-off 8.45pm local time/7.45pm Irish time).

Skipper Ryan commented: "Obviously we are happy to get the win, but we judge ourselves pretty harshly because we just want to get better and better. I thought the first half was a little bit disappointing.

"We just didn't really get into the flow that we wanted to for a number of reasons. I thought the second half was better but we are still looking for that full 80-minute performance that we want to get out of this pre-season block.

"A lot of lessons heading into Samoa next week. That will be the ambition, to put in a performance that we can be happy with for the full 80 minutes."