England have suffered their joint-worst Six Nations finish after being hammered 32-18 by Ireland, ending a largely dismal title defence for Eddie Jones and his team at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.
A week after appearing to signal the end of a shaky period by dispatching France, Jones’s men failed to fire a shot against opponents who they’d beaten four times in a row and who ended the match a man down.
Combined with defeats by Scotland and Wales, the performance equals England’s worst Six Nations performance from 2018, when they also lost three games and finished fifth under Jones. In 2005 and 2006, they lost three times and finished fourth.
The highlight of Ireland’s most impressive outing since Andy Farrell took charge after the 2019 World Cup was Jack Conan’s try that concluded 23 phases of highly-polished play.
It was a mesmerising score directed by the brilliant Johnny Sexton, but Keith Earls’ opener was almost as accomplished as England were picked apart by a smart line-out move.
The team leading at halftime have gone on to win in the last 27 meetings between the rivals and with Ireland 20-6 ahead at the interval, it looked bleak for the fallen champions.
For the last 16 minutes Ireland played with 14 men after Bundee Aki was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on Billy Vunipola, but the centre’s departure made no difference as the retiring CJ Stander was given a triumphant send-off.
Sexton was at the heart of Ireland’s riotous display and amassed 22 points from the kicking tee, comprehensively overshadowing George Ford in one of several Lions’ duels fought out in Dublin.
Ford will be among a number of England players to see their Lions aspirations harmed, albeit he was playing behind an outmuscled pack, while the prospects of their rivals in green shirts have soared.
And Jones’ position now faces renewed scrutiny with the team in full reverse 18 months after they reached the World Cup final.
England suffered a setback shortly before kickoff by losing Max Malins to injury, with the resulting reshuffle seeing Ollie Lawrence slot in at outside centre and Elliot Daly switch back to fullback.
Searching for their 50th win in the fixture, Ireland engineered the first try when a line-out move saw No.8 Conan flick the ball to Earls who sprinted clear and rounded a wrong-footed Jonny May to score.
A scrum penalty provided the platform for Ireland to strike again through a cleverly engineered try that saw Hugo Keenan beat Daly to a high ball before play swung left, where the impressive Conan pounced from short range.
The penalties were accumulating for Jones’ team and although Earls had a second try ruled out for an earlier knock-on, Sexton landed three points as the lead became 23-6.
Aki was sent off for a high tackle on Vunipola and England were smart with the penalty, a line-out drive enabling George to peel off and send Ben Youngs darting over.
But Sexton rifled over two more penalties to snuff out the fightback, with May crossing late on with the result already settled.