Billy Vunipola was sent off as England’s stuttering World Cup preparations were thrown into further disarray by a costly 29-10 defeat to Ireland amid Owen Farrell’s ongoing disciplinary saga.
The number eight is likely to miss the start of the tournament in France after his 53rd-minute yellow card for making contact with the head of Andrew Porter was upgraded to red.
Steve Borthwick’s men were comfortably dispatched in a disjointed Dublin affair, which influential captain Farrell sat out following the fallout of his dismissal against Wales last weekend.
Vunipola’s premature departure compounded a meek display and he will now join Saracens team-mate Farrell in facing a disciplinary panel with England’s World Cup opener against Argentina on September 9 fast approaching.
Keith Earls marked his 100th cap by claiming the fifth of Ireland’s tries, adding to scores from Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, James Lowe and Mack Hansen, as the hosts retained their place at the top of the world rankings courtesy of a 12th successive win.
Andy Farrell’s dominant side were far from their free-flowing best but still had too much for their depleted rivals, although the first-half departure of hooker Dan Sheehan is a concern.
Replacement prop Kyle Sinckler claimed a late try shortly before Earls stylishly celebrated his milestone appearance but it was little consolation for the visitors.
England crossed the Irish Sea seeking the greatest win of the Borthwick era so far to ignite their World Cup build-up but they were in unconvincing form especially with the situation surrounding skipper Farrell dominating headlines.
Replacement fly-half Ford slotted an early penalty before the away team were swiftly put on the back foot as a superb break from Peter O’Mahony allowed Aki to charge beyond Ben Youngs and touch down under the posts, leaving Ross Byrne with a simple conversion.
While England have endured a tumultuous time since finishing runners-up at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, Six Nations champions Ireland have enjoyed an impressive period of progression masterminded by head coach Farrell.
The Englishman fielded the bulk of his star names for the first time since clinching the Grand Slam against Borthwick’s men in March, which perhaps explained frustrating levels of rustiness in a fragmented opening period littered with stoppages.
Ford missed the chance to reduce England’s deficit with a second penalty before Ireland’s Sheehan hobbled off due to an apparent injury.
There looked like being no further inroads on the scoreboard before the break until Hansen’s clever cross-field kick exposed the opposition’s defence, with Ringrose inadvertently propelled over the try-line by a combination of Elliot Daly and Freddie Steward.
England, who are expected to learn the fate of Farrell in midweek, offered very little from an attacking perspective in a fairly forgettable first half which they ended 12-3 behind.
Their evening quickly took a turn for the worse when Vunipola ploughed into Porter.
Referee Paul Williams initially deemed the sin-bin to be sufficient punishment but the England back-rower, whose trudge from the field coincided with Farrell flashing up the big screen to a chorus of boos, would not return.
Ireland wasted little time in capitalising on their numerical advantage as Lowe was afforded yards of space to catch Byrne’s pass and cross wide on the left, before Hansen added to their misery by diving over on the other flank.
England’s attempts to avoid a drubbing were helped by Sinckler bulldozing over.
But they were powerless to prevent Ireland registering a fourth consecutive win in this fixture, with veteran wing Earls raising the roof thanks to a spectacular diving finish on his landmark outing.