England win ‘final dress rehearsal’

AP, LONDON

Mon, Sep 07, 2015 - Page 19

England restored some optimism heading into the Rugby World Cup by beating Ireland 21-13 on Saturday in their last warm-up match.

Much improved from the alarming 25-20 loss to France two weeks ago, England scored tries in the opening 14 minutes through wingers Jonny May and Anthony Watson to take a 12-3 lead into half-time.

Ireland were more aggressive and precise in the second half, closing to within two points when veteran lock Paul O’Connell crashed over for a converted try from an attacking lineout.

Two penalties from replacement flyhalf Owen Farrell in the final 10 minutes saw England home, and kept them unbeaten this year at Twickenham in London, where they are to play most of their World Cup games.

The next time England run out there, it will be for the first match of the World Cup against Fiji on Sept. 18. Confidence within the squad — and in the host country as a whole — is likely to have been boosted after their display against Ireland, especially the first 40 minutes when England produced a dominant all-round performance and should have been further ahead.

“It was a great final dress rehearsal,” England captain Chris Robshaw said.

As for Ireland, they go into the World Cup on the back of two straight defeats — including at home to Wales last week — but seemed to be leaving something in reserve.

Crucially, the Six Nations champions did not appear to pick up any serious injuries, one of the pre-game priorities for coach Joe Schmidt.

“I would not say alarm bells will be ringing, but we are very disappointed,” said the retiring O’Connell, who will be hoping it was not his last appearance at Twickenham, the venue of the World Cup semi-finals and final. “The last three games we have fallen short on the things we wanted to do.”

May barreled through opposite wing Tommy Bowe to score down the left in the third minute after an electric start by England, and Watson pushed the lead to 12-3 by getting the run on Simon Zebo to take a high cross-field kick from George Ford and dot down.

May had a try ruled out for a forward pass in the build-up, leaving Ireland fortunate to just be nine points behind at half-time after a disjointed display in which their players fell off tackles and lacked aggression in defense.

Ireland were better after the break and after the teams traded penalties, the visitors made it 15-13 when O’Connell barged over from close range following a wraparound move from a lineout.

Intensity dropped as both teams emptied their benches to give fringe players some more game time, and England were rarely threatened in the final 20 minutes.

“I was delighted with the way we closed out the game,” England coach Stuart Lancaster said. “It was a really important game for us to win.”

In Saturday’s other World Cup warm-up games, Wales defeated Italy 23-19, France beat Scotland 19-16, Australia thrashed the US 47-10 and Japan edged Georgia 13-10.

Additional reporting by staff writer