Ireland smothered by ruthless England
Ireland 6 England 12:England’s clarity of purpose and intelligent game management were decisive in securing victory in today’s Six Nations Championship match at a rain drenched Aviva stadium. It was a first tournament victory in Dublin for the visitors since 2003 and they deserved their triumph that guarantees they are the only remaining team in the tournament that can win a Grand Slam.
England were ruthlessly professional but they came to Dublin with a clearly defined game plan and were largely able to implement it. They were rigid in their structures but that was attributable to the adverse conditions. Their kicking was largely well directed, their chase organised, and they took Ireland through multiple phases.
England’s 21-year-old outhalf Owen Farrell kicked four from six penalties opportunities but there was a great deal more quality to his performance. His punting was well judged and he ensured that when the ball arrived from the skies so did the chasing Englishmen. The visitors were patient and organised and well marshalled by captain Chris Robshaw; few would quibble with his man of the match accolade.
England’s back three were exemplary under the night ball, their midfield assured in the tackle, while the work of the pack took the legs from Ireland long before the end. The visitors had the stronger bench and it showed.
Ireland were left to rue a couple of injuries to Simon Zebo (10 minutes) and Jonathan Sexton (32 minutes) but won’t try and camouflage their shortcomings on the day. The handling was rank. There was mitigation in the conditions but not to the extent that Ireland spilled ball. It made for a frustrating afternoon for players, supporters and management.
Ireland showed much more ambition in their patterns but that counted for little when line-breaks were quickly followed by ball hitting the deck. There was no faulting the perspiration expended by green-shirted players but the execution was another matter entirely. Seán O’Brien was outstanding, Peter O’Mahony gave everything and the pack worked hard but inaccuracy in possession was a relentless bugbear.
Craig Gilroy and Gordon D’Arcy tried hard, Earls made an impact with a couple of excellent runs but Ireland’s play lacked the cohesion and sustained precision to yield dividends.
There was a very obvious lesson from minute one that shoddy handling was going to be an expensive vice, scuppering any notion of being able to sustain pressure. Time and again an Ireland player would put the ball on the ground and the visitors were handed the chance to clear their lines.
England were patient and more precise. Their patterns were pretty conservative based on those they showcased against Scotland but there was a pragmatism to them, taking in the inclement weather. They played with a large dollop of common sense.
They were aggressive in clearing out at the breakdown, ruthless in getting the player to ground to avoid Ireland’s favoured choke tackle and precise in going low to chop down the Irish ball carrier. The home side did achieve some success in exploiting the short side, Earls twice escaping for serious yardage but on both occasions the move petered out in the England 22 with a handling error.
Under heavy rain and on a sodden surface, the Irish players needed to take better care of the ball. Zebo and Sexton departed and with them a little bit of belief; at least in the stands.
Ireland will have wanted a quick start but instead mistakes hampered that ambition. Jamie Heaslip was penalised for not rolling away in the tackle; Farrell made no mistake from 35 metres. The Irish captain then knocked on from a long drop-out. The home side lost their first lineout; everything looked a little jittery.
Ireland were repeat offenders at the breakdown for the same transgression and that’s just sloppy as the excellent French referee Jerome Garces was consistent in his interpretation.
The hard-working Conor Murray released Earls down the short side but the move petered out on the strength of another handling aberration. England were disciplined in tackling low and putting the man on the ground. Their defence very good in that first 20 minutes with Ireland’s attacking gambits, switches and cutbacks conducted too far behind the gain-line.
This, compounded by handling errors, was like a release valve from any pressure that the home side were looking to build. Once England retained their discipline and aggression in defence then they simply awaited the next Irish fumble.
Sporadically the homeside threatened to blow the game wide open. Great work down the short side saw O’Driscoll fire a superb pass to Earls. He linked with Rob Kearney but two rucks later Mike McCarthy’s hands again let him down as he spilled the ball. Ireland were making the line breaks but England’s scramble defence was impressive.
Ireland were penalised at a lineout and Farrell posted a superb 44-metre kick to nudge his side 6-0 ahead. Sexton’s hamstring forced him to retire and his replacement Ronan O’Gara was pinged for not releasing just before half-time, but Farrell could not convert this opportunity.
Ireland brought a different level of intensity after the restart and initially better accuracy. O’Gara landed two penalties in the first 16 minutes after the interval to level the match at 6-6. The second of these saw English flanker James Haskell sent to the sin bin for illegal footwork at a ruck, but in the 10 minutes that he was off the pitch the visitors scored six points.
It might have been more but for an unfortunate bounce from Ben Youngs’s chip that eluded replacement Manu Tuilagi in the Irish in-goal area. Rory Best was penalised for an offence earlier in the play and Farrell kicked the penalty. He was on target again two minutes later when Kearney was whistled for not releasing following a tackle by Courtney Lawes.
Those two minutes of indiscipline effectively deflated the momentum that Ireland had been building. The home side’s play became increasingly ragged as new faces came on but the script remained the same. Ireland were trying things as individuals, weary minds and legs, undercutting any team dynamics.
Ireland’s desperation as the game ground to a conclusion became more acute with each passing moment. They tried to force passes in search of an unlikely salvation but the poor handling that had undermined their ambition periodically reared its ugly head. Ireland just could not escape their frailties, on the afternoon, hemmed in by a resolute and to a large extent professionally hard-nosed and measured performance from England.
The injuries to Zebo and Sexton, and the likely citing of loosehead prop Cian Healy for the use of a forearm at a ruck will make the afternoon all the more unpalatable from an Irish perspective. It was a bad day at the office.
Scoring sequence – 2 mins:Farrell penalty, 0-3; 27:Farrell penalty, 0-6. Half-time:0-6; 44:O’Gara penalty, 3-6; 57:O’Gara penalty, 6-6; 63:Farrell penalty, 6-9; 65:Farrell penalty, 6-12.
IRELAND:R Kearney (Leinster); C Gilroy (Ulster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster), G D’Arcy (Leinster), S Zebo (Munster); J Sexton Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster); M McCarthy (Connacht), D Ryan (Munster); P O’Mahony (Munster), S O’Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster, capt).
Replacements:K Earls (Munster) for Zebo 10 minutes; R O’Gara (Munster) for Sexton 32 mins; D O’Callaghan (Munster) for Ryan 65 mins; C Henry (Ulster) for O’Brien 65 mins; D Kilcoyne (Munster for Healy) 74 mins; S Cronin (Leinster) for Best 74 mins; D Fitzpatrick (Ulster) for Ross 78 mins.
ENGLAND:A Goode (Saracens); C Ashton (Saracens), B Barritt (Saracens), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), M Brown (Harlequins); O Farrell (Saracens), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); J Marler (Harlequins), T Youngs (Leicester Tigers), D Cole (Leicester Tigers); G Parling (Leicester Tigers), J Launchbury (Wasps); J Haskell (Wasps), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), T Wood (Northampton Saints).
Replacements:C Lawes (Northampton Saints) for Launchbury 47 mins; M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers) for Twelvetrees 47 mins; D Hartley (Northampton Saints) for T Youngs 50 mins; M Vunipola (Leicester Tigers) for Marler 57 mins; T Waldrom (Leicester Tigers) for Lawes 70 mins; D Wilson (Bath) for Cole 76 mins.
Yellow card:J Haskell (England) 56 mins.
Referee: Jerome Garces(France).