Man of the match Maro Itoje hailed ‘another step forward’ after England beat Ireland 18-7 at Twickenham to take firm control of Group A in the Autumn Nations Cup.
Itoje made 24 tackles to play a key role in a resolute defensive effort by the hosts, who had been put in the driving seat by a brace of first-half tries from wing Jonny May – the second of which was a stunning solo effort which began in his own 22.
A pair of Owen Farrell penalties after the break gave England a comfortable lead and Eddie Jones’ side stayed solid in defence, largely repelling the visitors until replacement Jacob Stockdale crossed with six minutes remaining.
“It was a good game,” said Itoje. “We started the first half really well and Ireland had their purple patch at the beginning of the second half and we kind of wrestled thereafter.
“I think it’s another step forward. Game on game we’re building and going in the right direction. You can’t take wins for granted so I’m really happy with that.
“I think our relentless application gets our forward pack going – we pride ourselves in that area and today was just another opportunity to show it.”
It was a dominant opening half from the hosts, who set the tone early on in the collisions and put pressure on Ireland’s line.
And their persistence paid off on the quarter-hour mark when Gloucester’s May outjumped Hugo Keenan to collect Owen Farrell’s pinpoint cross-field kick and dot down for his first score.
Shortly after equalling Jeremy Guscott’s 30-try mark for England, May went past the former centre with an outstanding solo score, demonstrating immense pace and skill to double his try count for the afternoon.
May is now level with Ben Cohen and Will Greenwood in second place on England’s all-time leading try scorers list, with only Rory Underwood (49) ahead of the 30-year-old.
Captain Farrell added two penalties shortly after the break to extend England’s lead to 18-0 – becoming England’s highest all-time points scorer against Ireland in the process – before replacement Stockdale crossed late on to reduce the deficit.
Ireland’s lineout woes hampered their hopes, despite having the lion’s share of the ball and territory at Twickenham.
Despite the defeat, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is confident his team can learn from the experience of going up a “top quality side”.
“In the first half we started pretty well and we controlled things pretty well,” he said.
“May scored two tries from nothing and suddenly we were chasing our tails at half-time.
“But the fight and the spirit we showed in the second half – we should be proud.
“We’re on a completely different journey to England. They’ve been together a long time, they are well coached and a quality side.
“We came here to experience Twickenham for the first time for a lot of lads and a lot of them became men.”
Ireland welcome Georgia to Dublin next Sunday in their final group match of the Autumn Nations Cup, while England travel to face Wales knowing a win would secure a 1st/2nd-place Final berth.