England inflicted a fourth-straight World Cup warm-up defeat on a bruised Ireland on Saturday and gained revenge for losing out on a Six Nations grand slam in Dublin earlier this year with a 20-9 win at the Aviva Stadium.
Manu Tuilagi scored his second try in as many starts to help the visitors to a 13-9 lead in a first half, where Ireland lost No. 8 Jamie Heaslip to a knock to the head and flanker David Wallace to a more serious-looking knee injury.
England, whose indiscipline cost them a series of early penalties and also Chris Ashton to the sin bin, still managed to cross over when down to 14 men after Delon Armitage latched on to captain Mike Tindall’s 46th-minute grubber kick.
Irish prop Cian Healy had to be helped off the pitch late on in a miserable end to a worrying series of friendlies that seem a far cry from March’s 24-8 win over England that suggested Ireland may have been recapturing their grand-slam winning form of 2009.
England began like a team intent on putting that defeat behind them and Tuilagi struck after five minutes, relying on his pace rather than his much-feared strength as he sailed far too easily past Keith Earls, deputizing at outside center for the rested Brian O’Driscoll.
Ireland got on the scoreboard when Ronan O’Gara slotted over a penalty, but their scrum was obliterated by a physical English pack a few plays later and Jonny Wilkinson followed his earlier conversion with a simple penalty.
The hosts got another three points back through an O’Gara penalty just after 20 minutes, but lost Wallace for the rest of the game and potentially the World Cup after he landed awkwardly on his knee following a thumping Tuilagi hit.
Ireland have plenty of quality back-row reserves, particularly with Ulster’s Stephen Ferris starting his first international in nine months, but losing the twice Heineken Cup-winning, twice British & Irish Lions--touring Wallace would be a big blow.
Wilkinson knocked over another penalty and Tuilagi almost scored again with a near pitch-long dash, but the returning Geordan Murphy caught the Samoan before lock Courtney Lawes fluffed an overlap in the next play.
Ireland then had to replace a groggy-looking Heaslip, but England, who gave away an extraordinarily high 12 first-half penalties, gave O’Gara another sight at goal and the Munsterman cut the deficit to four points at the break.
Referee Nigel Owens finally lost his patience with the succession of penalties and gave Ashton his yellow card at the start of the second half, but O’Gara missed the resulting penalty and Armitage struck within minutes. Wilkinson knocked over the touchline conversion to make it 20-9 and a flat and scrappy end to the match ensured that was the way the scoreboard stayed.
The win made up for England’s friendly loss to Wales last time out. Ireland have just their opening World Cup game against the US to record a much-needed win before facing newly crowned Tri Nations champions Australia on Sept. 17.