England take their chance to establish themselves
England coach Lancaster insists victory was huge step for his team
Ireland’s Devin Toner battles with England’s Courtney Lawes during Saturday’s Six Nations game in Twickenham. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The problem with this Ireland team crystallised itself at Twickenham. For England they represented a scalp that would make them stronger. A chance for Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes to out muscle Paul O’Connell. A chance for Mike Brown and Luther Burrell to put Brian O’Driscoll out of his misery.
A chance to establish themselves under the glare of their own gallery once again.
This they did.
“It was a huge step for us because of the quality of the opposition,” said England head coach Stuart Lancaster.
Brown somehow managed to out play the superb Rob Kearney but Launchbury became England’s alpha with a late defensive contribution they so desperately needed after Tom Wood limped off.
The Wasps lock was magnificent, making 15 tackles, including that chasing down of Dave Kearney, performing like a man half his size and a man of his huge frame.
“I’m pretty sure it’s the first tap tackle I’ve ever tried,” said Launchbury. “Normally I’d be on the turf face down.”
Then he provided an insight into England’s dark philosophy.
“We pride ourselves on being a pack who can play this all court game, that can run around and take teams to dark places.” They did just that but the 22-year-old played above everyone else.
“If there was a forward of the match Joe Launchbury had to be close to it, I thought he was outstanding,” Lancaster believed. “Mike Brown, again, you couldn’t argue with his man of the match performance but for Joe to go for 80 minutes and defend in the outside channels the way he did in the 78th minute, he is a great young player.”
Conor O’Shea, as a former Irish international, would be cut deep by it all but he could be forgiven for a quiet purr at the sight of three Harlequins – Chris Robshaw’s offload, Brown’s dazzling link play and Danny Care’s dashing finish – combining in stunning fashion for the definitive try.
From it a terrible beauty was born but not in the way Yeats meant it. Quite the opposite as an English gentleman would be wont to say.
Northerner to his core
Andy Farrell is not your typical English gentleman. A northerner to his core, the former Wigan great – who suffered at the hands of O’Connell, O’Driscoll, Best, D’Arcy at Croke Park in 2007 – can feel the most accomplished of Six Nations coaches after the weekend.
Farrell oversees the all consuming English defence, only unlocked by the most special of Joe Schmidt plays for Rob Kearney’s try (already seen in Bordeaux in 2012).
“Pardon my French but I thought it took massive balls to go out and play like that,” said Farrell. “We’ve confronted ourselves over the last couple of weeks to up our game in the last 20 minutes. All credit to Ireland; we knew what type of game they were going to come with and it was a different type of game for us to handle really, which was the most pleasing thing because Ireland set piece, scrum and maul, really tried to take it to us. We had to be at our best to hang on in there at times.
“Our legs had gone. A massive, massive credit to David Wilson to play 70 minutes of rugby and for Henry Thomas to come in and be in the heat of the battle right at the death was absolutely fantastic. For us to keep going at them and not just survive but actually keep going forward in those last 10, 15 minutes is a massive step in the right direction for us.”
There are more of his ilk shifting codes from Rugby League with the NRL’s greatest import, Sam Burgess, due at Bath and inevitably England next season. They hope the man, who ran clean over Sonny Bill Williams, will be tuned to the nuances of union before England host the 2015 world cup.
The plan is to slot this behemoth at 12, alongside Farrell’s ever growing, yet still impetuous son, Owen.
That Craig Joubert felt Farrell’s late, shoulder charge on Conor Murray only merited a penalty and not a yellow card hurt Ireland as deep as any error.
Yet his hesitancy when a four man overlap screamed for the ball contributed to Jonny May’s botched attempt to touch down.
“I did see that four man overlap,” Lancaster of the chance his outhalf did not. “They are the moments in the game you know you have to take them at the highest level.
“They’re the opportunities we have to take if we are to go on to become a great team.”
Neither team is there yet but after this victory England are closer and they have the strength in depth, what with “six British Lions” to return, to improve. Whether Ireland can remains to be seen.