Rugby-Superb England end Irish Grand Slam hopes

LONDON (Reuters) -Marcus Smith slotted a last-minute drop goal as England ended Ireland’s double Grand Slam dream with an exhilarating 23-22 win on Saturday in a brilliant attacking display that sent the Six Nations championship race to the final round.

After Scotland’s shock loss to Italy, Ireland knew victory would give them the title and set them up for back to back Grand Slams and they looked on course leading 12-8 at halftime despite being on the back foot for most of the first period.

Two James Lowe tries looked to have sealed victory for the visitors but tries by George Furbank and Ben Earl kept England within two points and in a thrilling finale Smith secured the win with the final kick of the match.

“I was excited to be honest we got an advantage in the wide channels,”

“To watch it from the back and get the forwards round the corner getting us momentum, I have been practising my drop-goals and I thought why not.”

Ireland have 16 points and England, who visit France next week, are second on 12. Scotland, who go to Ireland next week, have 11. France are on six ahead of playing Wales on Sunday.

England, 4-1 outsiders on their own patch, played with an attacking verve rarely seen, certainly not under coach Steve Borthwick who had been promising they had a big performance in them.

They certainly delivered it on Saturday and though Ireland remain favourites for the title, the whole mood around the England camp will be lifted.

It was a strange first half, with England looking full of attacking intent but struggling to turn it into points.

They scored a terrific first try when Furbank again showed why he was preferred to Freddie Steward as he came into the line brilliantly to carve through and set up Ollie Lawrence to dot down one-handed in the corner.

England were playing with a speed and intensity not previously seen in the championship and recalled scrumhalf Alex Mitchell set the tone with razor-fast delivery from every ruck.

A second Lawrence try was ruled out for a forward pass as England kept the pedal down but their old problem of failing to turn red zone entries into points again let their opponents off the hook.

Ireland had struggled to deliver any of their trademark cohesive attacks but their expertise over the ball, and England’s indiscipline, not only kept them in the game but, with four Jack Crowley penalties, enabled them to go in at halftime 12-8 up.

Ireland came out strongly in the second half and England’s new blitz defence was again undone to leave the visitors with men over and Lowe finished expertly in the corner to open up an 17-8 lead.

England hit back immediately with a lovely, high-speed passing move that sent Furbank over.

Ireland lost captain Peter O’Mahony to the sin bin after 58 minutes and England kicked the penalty to the corner, battered the line and sent Ben Earl over. Replacement Smith converted and England were 20-17 ahead.

Ireland, however, refused to give up and worked Lowe into space for his second try after 73 minutes to open a two-point lead.

With Twickenham rocking, England kept pressing and after hammering at the Irish line and a penalty advantage to the good, Smith, making his first appearance of the championship, coolly dropped the winning goal.

“Credit to England they played really well,” O’Mahony said.

“We spoke beforehand of how dangerous they can be. They disrupted our attack and defended really well.

“We will get back into camp and kick on and try to win the championship.”

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)