Awesome England roll over Ireland on their way to Grand Slam Holy Grail
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.
Ireland could ill afford to cough up a soft seven-pointer, but that they did. A scrum inside their 22 screwed back on the right side, Peter Stringer’s feet became entangled with his backrow, Richard Hill pounced and fed Matt Dawson, who easily took Murphy’s tackle and put the supporting Lawrence Dallaglio, back to his immense best, in under the sticks.
Will Greenwood turned to the West Stand and clenched his fist. Belief surged through them in that moment.
Still Ireland came calling, responding to a sustained spell of continuity by England with one of their own after Murphy beat three men in a counter-attack. Unfortunately Humphreys missed a kickable penalty to the right of the posts. But in fairness, he landed a monster effort from 55 metres in response to Wilkinson’s first drop.
Cracking stuff, but Ireland couldn’t crack the white line. England’s defensive coach, Phil Larder, said afterwards they had a hunch Ireland would seek to play a wide game, and when it materialised they reverted to the defensive patterns they used against France. They can think on their feet too.
Ireland were punished for the slightest error, like when Horan ran into O’Kelly. Dallaglio galloped upfield off the base of the ensuing scrum and Wilkinson struck again.
Gamely, Ireland tackled their socks off in the third quarter, but the English tide was unrelenting. It wasn’t all champagne rugby either. Pragmatic when they have to be, and mauling from deep, three times they earned penalties for territorial gain and Ireland were continually defending.
In a vintage display by the English backrow, Dallaglio was at the business end of things when Ireland went wide; Denis Hickie took the ball into contact and the English number eight ripped it out of his arms.
From a resultant lineout, Mike Tindall straightened through a big gap between the Irish centres as Maggs came inside on Humphreys’ shoulder and Brian O’Driscoll couldnt fill the gap. It had to happen, and the game was up.
Even the introduction of Ronan O’Gara was, by then, a token gesture, and, in a wilting, beaten team, a tough ask for him. He wasn’t on the pitch a minute when Greenwood steamrolled over him and was mauled over the line by half a dozen team-mates with only Hickie in the way.
Catch-up isn’t Ireland’s game, and another Greenwood try, when he intercepted Murphy’s inside pass to a wilting Gleeson, and Dan Luger’s run-in in the seventh minute of injury time emphasised England’s supremacy. When this English team have you by the throat, they’re not inclined to let go.
Not for moving First blood England
England’s rugby players stood defiant and on the wrong side of the red carpet. Across the field, the Irish team refused to get in line, incensed the opposition had moved to the wrong place, Ireland’s place, which was left of the tunnel when facing the West stand.
Forming a line on their usual side with both teams now left of the halfway line, it was awkwardly explained to President Mary McAleese, that as a result of England’s lack of protocol she would have to walk on the pitch for her introduction to the players. First blood England.