Friday 18 April 2014

England edge Ireland in war of attrition to end our Grand Slam dreams

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland hands off Danny Care of England during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium on February 22, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland hands off Danny Care during Ireland's 13-10 defeat at Twickenham

England narrowly held on to deny Ireland a Triple Crown in Twickenham as the Six Nations championship was blown wide open.

Stuart Lancaster's side fully deserved the win and defensively they showed huge resolve and England defended Ireland's formidable maul with supreme resolve.

At one stage in the second-half, Ireland led 10-3 after Rob Kearney's superb try from a 42nd minute strike move but the away side's attack was mostly stifled thereafter.

A Danny Care try nudged England ahead as Owen Farrell's kicks ensured that Brian O'Driscoll's record-equalling day ended in heartbreak, as he limped from the fray in the dying minutes.

England had the first chance of a tight, absorbing first-half but Jonny May was denied by a slack-handed scoring attempt and a fabulous double tackle from Andrew Trimble and Conor Murray, who prevented a certain five-pointer.

England had all the early possession and territory but Ireland's defence held firm and they soon created a couple of half-chances themselves, with Trimble focally involved in both.

First, Jonny Sexton's excellent cross-kick almost saw the Ulster man get a run-in from the right wing and then, from a sweeping move,he as just caught short of the line as Ireland unveiled a substantial more expansive game than that shown in the championship so far.

Eithne Bonnais with her husband Matthieu Bonnais  and Maura Turner at Twickenham for the Ireland England Game. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Eithne Bonnais with her husband Matthieu Bonnais and Maura Turner at Twickenham for the Ireland England Game. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

England stuck to a more rigid approach and their robust efforts were demonstrated when hot-headed Andy Farrell smacked into Conor Murray without using his arms; referee Craig Joubrt may have binned him but satisfied himself with merely a caution.

That freed him to sneak England into a 25th minute lead after Paul O'Connell was penalised for crossing the line when reading a home throw.

Billy Vunipola was causing havoc with some trademark bursts but an ankle injury forced him off before the break and, after Farrell smacked a penalty wide off the posts following a surprising scrum penalty, England's inexperience was evident when they spurned another three-pointer just before the break.

Ireland's superior experience was demonstrated immediately after it; in these so-called championship moments, Joe Schmidt's men reigned supreme.

A trademark Schmidt move, finished superbly thanks to a slaloming run from full-back Rob Kearney, after a deft delivery inside from Jamie Heaslip, is a familiar sight to Leinster fans and it gave Ireland a superb boost.

Sexton converted the try just a couple of minutes after the break and when his penalty put Ireland 10-3 ahead, it seemed as if the tide had turned, especially when England spurned a huge overlap in the 52nd minute.

Ireland were forced to concede three points in this phase of play but, from the restart, Sexton's inaccuracy put his side on the back foot and a superb break, led by first May and then Mike Brown, allowed Danny Care to scamper home from the 22.

Farrell's easy conversion turned the encounter on its head; England now led 13-10, a seven-point deficit had been erased in a matter of moments and now it was Ireland's brains which were scrambled.

Forced to do a considerable amount of defending, Ireland were struggling to eke out any territory as England's lumbering forwards pinned the visitors in their own half.

When Ireland did get some territory as the game entered the final quarter, England defended manfully as the game remained so delicately poised.

They were even able to defend Ireland's strength this season, the rolling maul, and England won a crucial late turnover as Ireland scented blood.

They couldn't land the killer blow and England deservedly held on, significantly the better team on the day.

England: M Brown; J Nowell, L Burrell, B Twelvetrees, J May; O Farrell, D Care; J Marler (M Vunipola 64) D Hartley (T Youngs 75), D Wilson (H Thomas 70), J Launchbury, C Lawes, T Wood (D Attwood 70), C Robshaw capt, B Vunipola (B Morgan 36).

Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble (F McFadden 66), B O'Driscoll (P Jackson 78) G D'Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy (J McGrath 72), R Best (S Cronin 74), M Ross (M Moore 62), D Toner, P O'Connell capt, P O'Mahony (I Henderson 70), C Henry (J Murphy 74), J Heaslip.

Referee: Craig Joubert (SARU)

David Kelly

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