As soon as the replays were beamed around Twickenham to the gasps of the crowd, there was only one decision for the referee to make. Mathieu Raynal had no choice but to show Charlie Ewals the red card for his late, dangerous tackle on Ireland’s James Ryan, which forced the latter to be substituted, and in an instant, the dynamic of the match changed dramatically.
Suddenly, Ireland held all the aces, and they quickly engaged top gear as they looked to put England to the sword on their own patch. A Johnny Sexton penalty was quickly added to by James Lowe’s lung-busting run to the try-line, as Ireland established an 8-0 lead. When Caelan Dorris crossed the line moments later, England looked set to take a beating, but the TMO spotted a knock-on in the build-up and that seemed to give the home side hope.
Indeed, Ireland looked unsure of themselves with the man-advantage. Having put so much preparation into matching England 15 against 15, it no doubt came as something of a shock for the visitors to have the upper hand so early into the game. They were frantic and rushed at the breakdown and scrum, giving away countless penalties and making numerous handling errors. By half-time, Ireland had a 15-9 lead thanks to Hugo Keenan’s try, but England were producing a spirited display against the Six Nations 2022 odds.
After the break, England continued to push Ireland to the limits, and the away side just couldn’t establish the dominance many expected them to after the early red card. A couple more penalties from the boot of Marcus Smith brought the score level with just 15 minutes to go, and suddenly it felt like England had momentum on their side.
However, a penalty moments later saw Ireland edge back into the lead, and something seemed to click for Sexton and co. In the final 10 minutes, they made their advantage count as English legs began to tire, with Jack Conan and Finlay Bealham scoring tries to earn Ireland what looked like a comfortable win from the scoreline, but head coach Andy Farrell and his side will be well aware that it was anything but.
In the end, Ireland got what they came for — a bonus-point victory to set up a grandstand finish next weekend. However, there will need to be some serious looks in the mirror to assess how they let England get so close to causing an upset despite being reduced to 14 men so early in the game.
Many in the rugby community have mooted the idea of an ‘orange card’, where players can be sent off individually but a replacement brought on after a certain period of playing with 14 men. However, if this uniquely thrilling contest proved anything, it’s that the advantage of having the extra man doesn’t always work in a team’s favour.
Ireland froze in the headlights at Twickenham, their own game plan uprooted by the brandishing of Raynal’s red card. They managed to secure a convincing win in the end as far as the scoreline was concerned, but there remains a strange feeling that England were the team who went home happier.