x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

England throw open Six Nations title race

Ireland's loss leaves four teams level on four points with two matches remaining

England scrum half Danny Care, left, celebrates with Jack Nowell after scoring the match-winning try in England's 13-10 Six Nations defeat of Ireland at Twickenham on February 22, 2014. Stu Forster / Getty Images
England scrum half Danny Care, left, celebrates with Jack Nowell after scoring the match-winning try in England's 13-10 Six Nations defeat of Ireland at Twickenham on February 22, 2014. Stu Forster / Getty Images

England fought back to spoil Ireland great Brian O’Driscoll’s record-equalling Test appearance with a 13-10 Six Nations victory at Twickenham on Saturday.

Ireland’s loss, their fourth in a row to England, dashed dreams of a Grand Slam for O’Driscoll, who equalled Australia great George Gregan’s record of 139 Test caps, in the centre’s final season before retirement.

It also meant no team in this season’s Six Nations would complete a coveted clean sweep of victories.

England were 10-3 behind early in the second half, and afterwards delighted coach Stuart Lancaster hailed his youthful side.

“It was a proper Test match, two teams going for it. Ireland were great but we showed maturity in closing out the game,” Lancaster told the BBC.

A breathless first half ended with England just 3-0 ahead thanks to an Owen Farrell penalty.

But Ireland hit back with a converted try from full-back Rob Kearney early in the second half and went 10-3 up with a Jonathan Sexton penalty. Farrell’s second penalty cut Ireland’s lead and then England scrum-half Danny Care was put clear for a match-winning converted try.

“We were pretty happy at half time but needed to finish off the phases,” said England’s Mike Brown, who was named man of the match. “The fans were like a 16th man for us today, so credit to them, too.”

Earlier, a superb Duncan Weir drop goal in the final minute of play gave Scotland a stunning 21-20 victory over Italy at Rome’s Olympic Stadium.

Scotland’s first victory of this campaign will ease fears of the wooden spoon, which is now a distinct prospect for Italy, who have no points after three matches.

Scotland trailed 13-3 at half time after an insipid half by both sides. However, the visitors emerged a different side after the interval and came fighting back to lead the Italians 18-13 with just over 10 minutes to play.

Joshua Furno pulled Italy level minutes later, with Luciano Orquera converting to give Italy a 20-18 lead and set up a thrilling finish. After the final scrum of the match, Scotland got the ball to Weir, who took his chance from 30 metres to stun a packed stadium and send the travelling Tartan Army support into raptures.

Scotland coach Scott Johnson admitted, after weeks of seeing his players misfire during heavy defeats to Ireland and England, that he had little faith the ball would go over.

“I had plenty of doubts he would do it. I’ve watched him for the last three weeks and he never looked like kicking one,” said Johnson, who was lambasted by the media following a 20-0 rout by England at Murrayfield two weeks ago.

“But I was delighted for him, delighted. It’s a position that carries a lot of responsibility.”

Although hardly celebrating, the under-fire Australian – who will step up to be director of rugby when Vern Cotter arrives at the end of the season – gave a hint that his side had finally given him slim reason to hope ahead of their next clash against France.

“The criticism last week was deserved, we didn’t play well,” he said. “But we showed character. We said if we got set pieces, we could play a bit of rugby. In the first half we had a lot of penalties aginst us, but we always felt that if we could hold pressure, we could score points”

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