DUBLIN (Reuters) - A resurgent England upset Six Nations champions Ireland on Saturday, handing Joe Schmidt a first-ever home defeat in the championship with a resounding 32-20 victory that blew the tournament wide open on the first weekend.
Ireland coach Schmidt had predicted the clash between the holders and England, champions in 2016 and 2017, would be decided in the last quarter but it was over far sooner than that as the four-try visitors ran away from his uncharacteristically sloppy side.
“It’s a brilliant feeling to come over here and get a win. We knew exactly how we wanted to play and we executed it perfectly,” England centre Henry Slade, whose two late tries sealed a bonus point, said in a pitchside interview.
England made a sensational start and never really looked back, stunning the hosts with a try after 90 seconds.
After a clever lineout handed Manu Tuilagi a typically thumping reintroduction to Six Nations action, England went through a couple of fast phases to draw Keith Earls out of the Ireland defensive line and hand Jonny May a clear two-on-one.
The try was the visitors’ first in Dublin in eight years and while Ireland, as they so often do under Schmidt, appeared to compose themselves, they were being forced into a raft of errors that would come back to haunt them throughout the game.
England’s targeting of Robbie Henshaw in his first start at fullback for Ireland since his debut six years ago was also reaping early dividends.
First though, the hosts briefly grabbed the lead back with a Johnny Sexton penalty and — after looking like they had spurned Tom Curry’s 10 minutes in the sin bin — barrelled over for a Cian Healy try on the England flanker’s return to the fray.
But they gifted the advantage back five minutes later when Jacob Stockdale tried to field an Elliot Daly dink through under pressure only to juggle it over the line where the ball fell back at the feet of a grateful Daly.
Despite making fewer metres, fewer carries and giving away twice as many penalties, England’s power and pinpoint kicking suffocated the hosts who were very lucky another unforced error resulted only in an Owen Farrell penalty and not a third England try on the stroke of a halftime.
Playing a side who had turned 18 of their past 19 halftime test leads into victory, it was exactly the kind of first 40 minutes England needed and it only got better in the second period.
While a Sexton penalty cut the deficit back to four points, the mistakes kept coming for Ireland and their more ruthless opponents went for the jugular 14 minutes from time as May broke down the left wing and placed a perfectly weighted kick through for Slade to touch down.
Slade intercepted a Sexton pass for his second try to end Irish dreams of back-to-back grand slams at the first hurdle with a thud that a John Cooney consolation try at the death did little to dampen.
It also made it the third time in four seasons that Ireland have failed to win their opening game, with the other two resulting in their only championships losses under Schmidt.
“We’ve tended to get better through the championship and a massive challenge for us now is to be better fast,” the New Zealander said, describing the defeat at his most disappointing at the Aviva Stadium.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon