Sport Rugby

Tuesday 28 February 2017

Kidney rues slim margins

Peter Bills

They will be no more than an afterthought in the minds of the New Zealanders and South Africans, come the World Cup. Oh sure, the Australians will talk them up before their game. But no-one will take Ireland really seriously at the World Cup.

Ireland rugby teams don't 'do' World Cups, do they? Well, not very effectively anyway. But put an England shirt in front of them and it's a different story.

Down the years, England teams have been 10/1 on favourites and Grand Slam suitors in this fixture but so many have come up short, left high and dry on a tide of Irish passion. And so it proved again as another English Slam disappeared like the fairies at the bottom of the garden.

As ever, Brian O'Driscoll led the way with a consummate performance. He scored one try, had another disallowed and was the heartbeat of this revitalised side. His second-half touchdown, the 25th of his Championship career, finally broke Ian Smith's 78-year-old record for the highest number of tries in the tournament.

O'Driscoll, captain par excellence, said after: "It is a nice moment being in the record books. You care about it a bit more post-match but it's not something I dwell on. I still hope to be involved going forward because it's hard not to enjoy big matches and big victories like this.

"We had not set down a marker at the Aviva Stadium before this game. So we needed to get a reason to call it home again and there was no better way than to beat England by that margin.

"We still made some mistakes and in high intensity games you will make errors. But I thought our defence today was remarkable. The work rate and desire was incredible."

Why hadn't Ireland played like this earlier in the campaign? O'Driscoll shrugged. "Of course you will have regrets but we showed today with this performance we weren't far away. But as England found out, even four big performances are not enough in this championship. It's such a brilliant tournament."

There was passion and pride but much more besides. Skill was in plentiful supply too. Yet you wondered where all this had been earlier in the year. But coach Declan Kidney had the answer to that.

"The margins are so slim," he said. "In the Italy match we had a few balls down, and there were a couple of penalties against France. We gave away some silly penalties against Scotland and as for the Wales match, these things (the non-try by Wales that won the game) happen. But we were still scoring tries in those games and that is what pleased me."

England were so poor that from the first minutes you felt that if this was a Grand Slam team then heaven help rugby in the northern hemisphere. They were plodding, predictable and pathetic. They couldn't do the basics properly or efficiently and they made a ton of errors.

Among the blunders was full-back Ben Foden's kick downfield when he should have put the ball into the stands inside his own 22. Ireland counter-attacked and Jonathan Sexton put Tommy Bowe over for the first try.

Foden's mistake was bettered by scrumhalf Ben Youngs throwing the ball away when it was England's lineout throw-in anyway, to earn him a yellow.

England coach Martin Johnson wasn't interested in excuses: "It was very disappointing for everyone. We got what we deserved so no excuses. We only have ourselves to blame but Ireland played very well and deserved it so we have to take it on the chin. We just got out-played. You have to go and do it and under that pressure, we didn't.

"We were always chasing it and made far too many errors. It was a horrible first half for us and we lost control of it early. Ireland got us in a grip and it was hard to get out of it. They took their chances and turned the screw. They are a savvy team, full of pride and experience."

Sunday Indo Sport

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