England roll up their sleeves for victory
Ronan O'Gara is wrapped up by Joe Marler of England during yesterday's game at the Aviva Stadium. photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images)
Ireland 6 England 12Irish fans would have feared an arm wrestle and, alas, on a soaking wet Sunday in Dublin that is exactly what transpired.Less experienced maybe, but younger, more physical, durable and, on the day, inestimably more accurate, England duly rolled their sleeves up and suffocated the life out of Ireland’s game.
Ireland’s third loss in succession to England was, in its own way, almost as demoralising and dispiriting as the scrum carnage of Twickenham last year. Younger, England will assuredly get better and this latest win, coming away from home against more experienced opponents, further enhances their prospects of being real contenders when hosting the 2015 World Cup.
Whether it proves to be Brian O’Driscoll’s last tilt at the title or not, it’s doubtful whether a better opportunity will come along. But what will rankle this time is that there was no one overwhelming factor ala the scrum of last year. In point of fact, the Irish scrum held up pretty well, even regaining some form of supremacy during the third quarter, and along with their maul was about their only source of succour on the day.
Quite why Ireland played so poorly in other respects is hard to fathom. Even allowing for the teeming rain and the slippery pill, the amount of unforced spillages in the first-half especially was staggering. There were nine in the first 40 alone, and although Ireland brushed up their act in that third quarter, there was still a surprising lack of precision at times – as when Conor Murray went right off a ruck with the cue of runners in green lined up to the left.
On a day such as this, Stuart Lancaster’s decision to retain Brad Barritt at outside centre was utterly vindicated, the South African-born Saracens centre closing down the midfield space and mowing down anybody in his vicinity. Typical of how they gave Ireland almost nothing easily, save for that third quarter when their accuracy at line-out and discipline went a little awry, was how Rory Best’s intended target invariably under pressure.
With Ireland trailing 6-0 just past the half hour, the mood of the crowd didn’t improve any as Sexton pulled up sharply after attempting to hack the ball ahead. As the big screen quickly went to the prostrate Irish out-half, a hush fell over the ground, which not even Ronan O’Gara’s fan club could greatly alleviate.
Aside from taking Ireland’s primary playmaker out of the equation, it left Ireland with only Eoin Reddan on the bench covering the backline. Kearney’s dead leg was evidently his left one, for he twice punted with his right foot and was never utilised to take some of the right-side penalties up the touchline in the second half.
This compounded the loss of Zebo early on, leaving Ireland with neither of their hefty left-footed kicking options, either with penalties up the line or from the back. As in much of the tactical kicking, England won the aerial tennis hands down, with Alex Goode having a very composed game at the back for England as, it has to be said did Chris Ashton and the impressive Mike Brown.
Their superior kicking game gave them an early foothold, the customary ‘hang time’ of Farrell’s kick-off contrasting with Conor Murray’s slightly over-cooked box kick giving England a steady flow of initial possession from which Farrell opened the scoring after Heaslip was penalised for not rolling away.