Ireland have defeated England in their 2010 RBS 6 Nations rugby union match at Twickenham this afternoon.
In a tight match, which both sides led, the visitors eventually won by four points – three tries to one – lifting the match by 20 points to 16.
Jonny Wilkinson, who had been a little unfairly criticised for his lacklustre performance in Rome, got off to an inauspicious start today by fluffing his drop-kick to get the game started. However, soon after, he made England’s first line break in the third minute in a signal of intent from the hosts which showed they would be looking to take the game to Ireland with the ball in hand.
However, this early possession was punished when Ireland’s forwards – who would prove to be impressive in the counter-ruck – won great turnover ball. Quick passing out wide soon found Jonathon Sexton, who was called in to replace the nervy Ronan O’Gara at ten, two on one with Lewis Moody: his outside man was the speedy Tommy Bowe. Sexton hit a perfectly executed grubber which stopped in goal and it was a foot race between the right-winger of Ireland and the flanker of England. One winner. Bowe. Five points to nil, Ireland (Sexton missed the wide kick to the right).
Twickenham, which had been quiet early on, now rang out with only Irish voices.
England, for their part, continued working manfully through the phases without penetrating the Irish line. Soon, however, they received a kickable penalty, which Wilkinson hit into the upright, with no backs following up.
Soon after, England forwards once again worked themselves an opening and Care produced the ball for Wilkinson – who’s chip went harmlessly out of play with Armitage claiming he had been baulked. The English full-back would never have made the overstrong kick: the net result was that England once again returned from the Irish 22 without any points.
More good work from Danny Care – this time a quick tap penalty for offside at a ruck – saw England win another penalty (not back ten) which Wilkinson slotted over to take the scores to 3-5.
After the first quarter of the game, on 20 minutes, England led on all stats, except, noticeably on lineouts and turnovers: Ireland looked able to frustrate when it mattered most, without ever really turning to any attacking play.
As the rain began to fall heavily, England’s lineout began to fail, and Ireland took advantage of good possession to win a couple of penalties. Sexton missed one sighter from inside his own half before slotting the second, easier, opportunity to stretch the lead to five points, 3-8.
Ireland came close to scoring on the half hour mark when an England lineout on the Irish 22 was again lost and Ireland cleared. The kick came back, as too often in this match, and England put it straight down Earls’ throat – the Irish left winger opting to run back at England rather than kick again – he beat two men before chipping dangerously for the England line. Only Danny Care’s pace would prevent a try as he scampered back to slide and touch down for a 22 dropout.
England once again worked the ball up the pitch through good pick and drive play which ended with another Irish infringement – coming in from the side of the ruck – which Wilkinson converted into three points. So the first half would finish. Had Wilkinson taken his first penalty opportunity, and England used their superior possession and territory to their advantage, they would have been leading at half time. As it was, Ireland had been threatening with ball in hand, and were content to lead 6-8 at half time.
In the first move of the second half, Easter was offside, and Sexton missed the resulting penalty from wide out right on the England 22. England won a penalty of their own on the halfway line for a similar infringement – Wilkinson backed himself to score from range, but fell well short.
Some good work by Monye catching an up and under came to nothing when the English Garry Owen was marked by Irish full-back Murphy.
The Irish won a turnover soon after which they worked into the corner of the pitch, but were adjudged to have taken the quick throw from the wrong place so England were offered the scrum or the lineout. England opted for the scrum, which they managed not to heel back, and this turnover led to Ireland’s second try of the match with the ball thrown wide from the resultant ruck which saw another miss-match with Earls flying at Danny Care. Sexton missed the conversion from wide. The score, 6-13. the roar, for some reason, from the England faithful seemed only to stir following this event.
England looked to reply quickly, and an excellent bit of play from Danny Care saw the English scrum half slip through and place a good grubber into the Irish 22. The defender could only slide back and touchdown for a 5 metre scrum to England. After three attempts, England eventually emerged from the scrum with the ball in hand, and prop Dan Cole forced his way over the line next to the posts.
The replay looked inconclusive on first sight, but one angle showed the ball just touch down. Try given. Simple conversion. Game on. 13-13.
England had some momentum now, and more good kick chasing from Monye saw England gain some yards. Ireland lost their captain, Brian O’Driscoll, after he was kneed in the head by his teammate – the painful looking blow looked concussion inducing, and he was cheered from the pitch on a precautionary spinal board.
This spell of pressure heralded England’s first sustained period of working through the phases, with some good forward play making hard yards up the middle of the pitch before Ireland inevitably gave away a penalty for offside at the breakdown. Wilkinson missed another kick he would usually make from around 30 metres out, and the scores remained level with ten minutes remaining.
More good England pressure ended with a turnover owing to a penalty soon after, and Ireland were given the opportunity to both clear their lines and bring Ronan O’Gara on for the last ten minutes. O’Gara was presumably coming on as much for his goal kicking as his ball playing, though, as it was looking increasingly likely that a kick would settle this match.
Ireland would make the next mistake, however, with a forward pass leading to England possession which ended with a beautifully struck Jonny Wilkinson right-footed drop goal. England were 16-13 in front with just minutes remaining. The three pointer had been set up by excellent work from Danny Care, who made amends for a huge error of judgment earlier, when he had a penalty reversed for petulantly pushing over his opposite number.
Ronan O’Gara found an excellent touch on 73 minutes, which placed the English lineout under pressure. Wilkinson cleared, but only found touch ten metres outside the England 22. The Irish lineout worked perfectly to take quick ball from the top. O’Leary moved the ball quickly to O’Gara who had simply to pop the ball back inside to Tommy Bowe who was flying at him from inside off his right wing.
Wilkinson never looked like making the tackle, and Bowe stepped the full-back easily to score Ireland’s thrid try from almost their third attack of the game. O’Gara scored the kick with ease to stretch the lead to an important four points on 75 minutes.
England were to have one last roll of the dice, however, as they worked themselves a lineout 25 metres out. The catch and drive worked well for them, and they rolled the maul towards the Irish try-line well before the referee adjudged it to have stopped going forwards. As the ball was then not produced, the whistle sounded, and Ireland had the put-in.
While England would win the ball back, they looked spent following this move, and Ireland, with the scent of victory, would not let them get hold of the ball cheaply before eventually they turned it over and kicked it out in overtime. The final whistle blew and Ireland had just hung on.
England will feel incredibly frustrated that they did not manage to turn vast periods of possession into more points today, but all those who watched this game will admit that Ireland’s snappier finishing was the difference today. The Irish forwards seemed more streetwise, somehow, too, leaving rucks that were not there to be won, yet piling over when it mattered to turnover and frustrate England. They slowed the ball down when required, but kept their noses clean when within range, and kicked out of dangerous areas of the pitch.
England, for their part, appeared bereft of ideas going forward: Flutey and Tait never looked like breaking the Irish line. Wilkinson looked at times like a liability carrying the ball into contact, and the two English wings lacked the pace and guile of their counterparts. England need a replacement, or at least some support, for Wilkinson – who is still world class, but cannot carry this team at his advanced age. The only threat England offer is via Delon Armitage, who exited the pitch with England’s chances through injury in the second half.
The Grand slam was never really on, but the English faithful will be most disappointed with the manner in which they lost it today: in an eminently ‘winable’ match, where much went in their favour. Ireland still have the triple crown in their sights, but can expect a hard time against Wales if they don’t work on retaining possession better than they did today: a side with more threat than England going forward – like Wales have – will expose such mistakes.
Only one side can win the Grand Slam in RBS 6 Nations 2010: France. England, on today’s evidence, have more than a mountain to climb to stop them in Paris.