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Supporters finally embrace Borthwick's England endeavor | Andy Bull
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Supporters finally embrace Borthwick’s England endeavor | Andy Bull

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On Saturday afternoon, prior to kick-off, a lay preacher could be seen working on the Whitton Road. In one hand, he held a damaged megaphone and in the other, a worn-out bible. It has been some time since he was last seen at Twickenham, but he used to be a frequent presence on game days.

He must have come back to the old patch thinking that after that last half against Scotland at Murrayfield the England fans could use the good news. “We have faith, we have faith, we have faith,” he barked. “We have faith today.” The lads in the flat caps and wax jackets queueing at the pasty stall over the road did not look too convinced.

Irish had not been considered as heavy favorites in a match at this location for almost 50 years. In 1976, they had won four matches consecutively at this venue, while England consistently finished at the bottom of the championship standings.

This time, there was not much variation. Ireland had triumphed in the previous four games against England with scores of 32-18, 32-15, 29-16, and 29-10. England had not come close to matching their points.

To be fair, it was the smallest of Ireland’s achievements. They were on a winning streak of 11 games in the Six Nations, with recent wins over France by 21 points, Italy by 36 points, and Wales by 24 points. The last time a team had secured three victories by 20 or more points in the Six Nations was the England team that eventually won the World Cup in 2003. As for the team in 2024? They barely scraped by with wins over Italy and Wales.

Therefore, hope was the only thing the English supporters had remaining. After five minutes, they finally received their reward. George Furbank collected a long kick from his own side of the field and embarked on a diagonal sprint towards the other side. The ball was swiftly passed to Tommy Freeman, who evaded Calvin Nash’s tackle and continued towards the goal.

It was a collision that appeared to shatter the entire game, as if the force had pushed everyone backward. The Irish team was struggling and Ollie Lawrence was sprinting down the wing, leaving Jack Crowley behind. Lawrence made a quick run towards the corner, reminiscent of a popped cork, and bent down to score the try.

Twickenham erupted. It has been a long time since the place sounded quite so loud, but then it has been a long time since England have played quite so well as they did in the opening minutes. The only problem with it all was that when the half was over, they were four points down.

Marcus Smith wins the game for England with a last-gasp drop goal.

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Ireland was able to secure four penalties from the edge of England’s 22, avoiding the need to enter the territory. This was sufficient to establish a foothold. Their ability to maintain composure allowed them to come out on top despite being pushed around the field in harsh conditions. They also had some fortune on their side.

Lawrence came close to scoring a second goal when he tipped the ball forward and then retrieved it after it bounced off Freeman while he was wrestling with Ciarán Frawley for it. However, it was disallowed due to a knock-on. Nonetheless, it was England’s strongest half since their draw against New Zealand in the fall of 2022.

Despite England’s strong performance in the first 40 minutes, their second half was even more impressive. They endured a few tough moments, particularly when James Lowe scored in the 43rd and 72nd minutes.

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England came back harder. Their second followed right after Ireland’s first, when Furbank finished off a move set up by a couple of bullocking runs by Maro Itoje and Sam Underhill. When Ben Earl scored their third 15 minutes later, something very strange indeed happened. Twickenham started to thrum and rattle and bounce, the seats were vibrating, the rafters wobbling, the fixtures swinging, as tens of thousands of England fans leapt up and down in celebration.

The English team was hard at work. It seemed like the efforts of their coach, Steve Borthwick, were evident after the countless training sessions at Pennyhill Park. Their forwards played with such ferocity that one could speculate whether Borthwick had deprived them of food throughout the week. Ollie Chessum, positioned on the side of the scrum, appeared to be involved in almost every tackle, while George Martin held an intimidating presence in front of him. Ben Earl, who was named man of the match, tore through the opposition like a destructive force, and players like Maro Itoje and Ellis Genge were embodying their past successes rather than their recent losses. This level of performance could be applied to the entire team throughout the 23 players on the roster.

Lawrence, Freeman, Furbank, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, and Danny Care all performed exceptionally. Marcus Smith also made a strong impact when he entered the game as a substitute.

After the event ended, the crowds excitedly spilled out onto the streets, expressing joy and laughter. They were all raving about the great game and the impressive performance by England. However, the preacher was nowhere to be found. It seemed he had already left, perhaps to attend to a more pressing matter.

Source: theguardian.com