Eddie Jones took another significant step in the rebuilding of England on Saturday as a 21-10 victory over champions Ireland at Twickenham kept them on course for a first Six Nations title since 2011 and a possible first grand slam since 2003.
England had dominated much of the game but trailed 10-9 after a Conor Murray try early in the second half, but well-crafted scores by Anthony Watson and Mike Brown around the hour mark put the hosts in control.
Ireland, seeking a third consecutive title, looked underpowered throughout. Even when England went down to 14 men after a yellow card for replacement scrumhalf Danny Care in the last 10 minutes, Ireland never looked likely to find a way back.
England, who had already won away in Scotland and Italy, top the standings on six points, one ahead of Wales.
“I think our performances have stepped up,” said Jones. “We were facing a better team today and we probably left 10 to 15 points out there, as we couldn’t always convert our attacking pressure. We weren’t quite sharp enough and we were letting them get a hand in at crucial times.”
Continuing the trend of the championship, the first half was tenaciously hard-fought but with precious little to get the fans out of their seats.
No.8 Billy Vunipola was again a wrecking ball as England’s main attacking weapon and they dominated in terms of possession and territory but the nearest either side came to a try was when James Haskell blasted his way through only for Ireland skipper Rory Best to hold the ball up.
So England turned round 6-3 ahead with two Owen Farrell penalties to one from Johnny Sexton, hoping that having forced Ireland to make almost 100 tackles in the first 40 minutes their dominance would bear fruit in the latter stages.
Instead Ireland came out firing and with England down to 14, after a yellow for Haskell, scrumhalf Murray burrowed through for the first try England had conceded in the championship.
England forced their way back into the game and relentless pressure eventually allowed former captain Chris Robshaw to send a pass wide to put Watson over to make it 14-10 after Farrell missed the conversion.
Ireland, already hard-hit by injury absences, began to show the effects of their huge defensive efforts and a zipping pass by Farrell sent fullback Brown over in acres of space.
This time Farrell added the extras and England looked set for victory at 21-10 with 18 minutes remaining, though they needed a superb cover tackle by Jack Nowell to prevent Robbie Henshaw scoring in the corner soon after.
England, who have not lost a Six Nations game at Twickenham since 2012, next host Wales, when a victory would leave them facing France in Paris in their final game with an opportunity for their first grand slam since their World Cup winning year of 2003.