England (6) 21
Tries: Watson, Brown; Conversion: Farrell; Penalties: Farrell 3
Ireland (3) 10
Try: Murray; Conversion: Sexton; Penalty: Sexton
England kept their hopes of securing a first Six Nations grand slam since 2003 alive courtesy of a 21-10 win over Ireland on 27 February. In their opening match at Twickenham under head coach Eddie Jones and the first on home soil since last year's World Cup debacle, tries from Mike Brown and Anthony Watson secured a third consecutive victory that came despite two second-half yellow cards.
Ireland drew first blood on a bitterly cold and windy afternoon in south west London, with Johnny Sexton striking through the posts after Dan Cole had been whistled by referee Romain Poite for collapsing the scrum. Owen Farrell returned the favour six minutes later, however, CJ Stander the guilty party on this occasion as he prevented the ball from being released at a ruck.
Both teams looked somewhat nervous early on and that was clearly reflected in the high penalty count. A harsh call on Robbie Henshaw, switched to outside centre in order to accommodate debutant Stuart McCloskey with defensive lynchpin Jared Payne absent, led to another opportunity for England but Farrell's kick from distance drifted wide of the right-hand upright. A trademark burst of power from the influential Billy Vunipola then almost led to the opening try, but a fine defensive effort from Conor Murray and Stander saw him bundled into touch in the left corner.
Undeterred, the hosts pushed forward once more and almost got an instant reward when Dylan Hartley charged through under the posts. McCloskey clearly felt that he had held the ball up, but that mattered little in the end as the Television Match Official (TMO) ruled that there had been a double movement on behalf of the New-Zealand born skipper.
All the momentum was with England as they became camped in the opposition 22, yet still they could not find a way through as Ben Youngs' passing left a lot to be desired. While unquestionably dominant, Jones' men were simply too narrow when the try-line came into view and that was an approach that evidently frustrated Watson as the speedy Bath wing was frequently left in oceans of space down the left flank.
Ireland were finding it immensely difficult to progress through more than one or two phases and Farrell proceeded to restore his side's lead from the tee following another infringement at the breakdown. A superb run from Rob Kearney saw the first half end with a rare attack from the otherwise besieged men in green, although Jamie Heaslip's grubber kick down the line bobbled harmlessly out of play.
England saw their number depleted after the break, James Haskell sent to the bin for dangerous play following an ill-judged late hit on Murray. They were immediately made to pay for such a lapse in concentration when Sexton kicked to touch deep inside the 22 and a period of real pressure then led to Murray diving over for the score. His half-back partner duly obliged with the extra two points to give the visitors an unlikely 10-6 advantage.
Farrell's boot quickly reduced the arrears and England looked to edge back in front only for Jack Nowell to be denied by a great tackle from Keith Earls. The next attack did bear fruit, however, as possession was quickly recycled to the opposite wing where Watson had time and space to score for the ninth time in his international career. Suddenly Ireland's previously stellar defensive resilience was shredded and it was their turn to be caught too narrow as England worked another quick attack that was finished nicely by Harlequins full-back Brown.
By this stage the game was being played at a breakneck pace. Danny Care was yellow carded for not rolling away, while Brown appeared lucky to escape punishment for recklessly swinging his boot boot at a ruck. Henshaw looked certain to set up a truly thrilling final stretch, but a fabulous intervention from Nowell forced him out at the last second. Debutants Josh van der Flier and Ultan Dillane tried to spark a late fightback and the former went to ground with seven minutes remaining only to be denied by the TMO.
England host Warren Gatland's Wales next in what could be the championship decider. Reigning champions Ireland, who are yet to win a single game in this year's tournament, face Italy at the Aviva Stadium.