Awesome England roll over Ireland on their way to Grand Slam Holy Grail
How The Irish Times reported on the game. Photograph: Inpho
England captain Martin Johnson refuses to move his team from their side of the red carpet before the game. Photograph: Inpho
Ireland 6 England 42:No one can say Ireland didn’t give it a go, which perhaps made it all the more salutary. England weren’t of a mind to let another Grand Slam slip by and were simply awesome in finally reaching their Six Nations Holy Grail. Talk about being put in your place.
The scoreboard was cruel on Ireland, and didn’t truly tell the tale, but by the same token it was as well this didn’t go on another 10 minutes. Ireland threw pretty much everything they could at an impenetrable white line, only to be picked off with ruthless precision.
England tend to do that to teams when they have Jonny Wilkinson in their midst. When all other avenues were closed off he simply dropped into the pocket and didn’t even bother switching on to his “stronger” left boot to land two right-footed drop goals in the first-half.
Only three-pointers maybe, but killers to the Irish psyche and massive boosts for his team. With anyone else you might say there was a hint of showboating. But this prolific points machine is a class apart, much as England were.
Big man’s game
England were immense, physically, right across the park, backs and forwards alike. Further proof, were it needed, that this is now a big man’s game.
The lineout again went well, with Shane Byrne hitting his targets and Malcolm O’Kelly having another good match. Victor Costello worked hard for his gain lines (and even dumped the mighty Martin Johnson once), Marcus Horan showed up well, and, with David Humphreys giving the ball plenty of air, Ireland were even using classy fullback Geordan Murphy to hit the line in a manner that hasn’t been done in yonks.
They didn’t want for ball either, particularly in the first half, and adopted the wide, wide, wide running game they had apparently abandoned for the rainsodden autumn win over Australia, keeping pods of forwards on either flank as they went back and forth.
It’s assuredly the way to go. But without much in the way of refinement, and up against the world’s number one side, it was a big ask. Alas, for much of the time it was just back and forth.
The old ground throbbed as Ireland threw the kitchen sink at England, especially in the second quarter. Kevin Maggs took it up the middle and could see the English posts tantalisingly out of his reach as Wilkinson held on to his ankles, and soon after Ben Cohen collared Costello in the corner.
Something to show
Ireland had to score then, had to have something to show for their efforts. Instead, Wilkinson landed his second drop goal for a 13-6 interval lead after playing into the wind.
For Ireland to make a game of it, it was they who had to take their chances and lead from the front, as they’ve done in all their big wins over the last couple of years. Such was their eagerness to decorate the scoreboard first Humphreys attempted a 60-metre penalty from five metres inside his half and half-way to the right of the posts. It had the direction, too, but just dipped below the crossbar.
They drew first blood anyway when Keith Gleeson gathered an overthrow by Steve Thompson in the lineout and Horan took the drive on with a rampaging run. With referee Jonathan Kaplan – excellent throughout – playing advantage, Humphreys positioned himself in front of the posts and landed a drop goal.