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10 February 2013; Alex Goode, England, is tackled by Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v England, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

10 February 2013; Alex Goode, England, is tackled by Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v England, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

10 February 2013; Alex Goode, England, is tackled by Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v England, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

THERE are two schools of thought when it comes to unfriendly weather conditions.

The first is that the low risk, percentage plays are rewarded because they lead to fewer mistakes. This is England. They protect the ruck. They put the ball to flight and they fight for return of it. They did that.

The second school is that the inclement conditions put a greater emphasis on skills to control the ball when it is more difficult. This is Ireland. They wanted quick ball to use their feet and hands to break open the defence. They dropped too much ball to do that.

"The game was just built on pressure. England put us under pressure and took the chances when they came their way," said Ireland coach Declan Kidney.

Sure enough, England started by getting the ball and keeping it. They protected the ruck expertly. Referee Jerome Garces was earmarked as a referee who wanted clean work at the breakdown.

It was sighted long before the first whistle. Ireland's captain Jamie Heaslip did not roll away from a ruck. Owen Farrell made it 3-0 in the second minute.

England were playing the percentages. Farrell went for the up-and-under twice. The English scavenged and Ireland scrambled.

For all the world, it looked like Ireland had a plan all week that they refused to tweak or alter completely when the rain spilled down. Ireland played like the novices; England the pragmatists. Ireland began to get the maul rolling. They just couldn't hold the ball. Gordon D'Arcy lost it in contact. Mike McCarthy dropped it at his feet. If the premium was on making fewer mistakes, Ireland were making more of them.

Brian O'Driscoll did put Keith Earls away down the left and Rob Kearney was one leg away from getting out of the clutches of the last defender. Mike McCarthy knocked on again.

 

Flopped

Heaslip was penalised by referee Jerome Garces for illegal work at a maul. Farrell kicked England six points ahead. This was a significant lead in the conditions, especially when Jonathan Sexton was forced off with a hamstring injury.

You had to feel sympathy for Ronan O'Gara when Joe Marler wrapped him up in the tackle, flopped over on the wrong side and stayed there. It was the exact same reason Heaslip was penalised in the second minute.

This time Garces opted to penalise O'Gara for holding on when Marler was impeding the recycle. Inconsistency incarnate. Justice was served when Farrell just missed on the right.

On the restart, Heaslip gave away another penalty for not releasing in the tackle. England had what they wanted again – territory.

The first two scrums yielded Irish penalties, Mike Ross doing the damage in the first; Cian Healy in the second. Ronan O'Gara rewarded them with three from the right to make it 6-3 in the 46th minute.

 

Impact

This was a day made for O'Gara's kicking nous. Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi were sent on for impact in the 48th minute. This was a good sign for Ireland. It was too early to be part of England's plan.

The home side just couldn't seem to get the message. They had the best tactical kicker in the competition in at 10 and they still couldn't resist the urge to move it.

It took a miraculous grab by Rory Best to give Conor Murray the chance to play for length. He did that. Ireland were starting to play the day, not their way.

James Haskell was carded for being a nuisance at the ruck, blatantly playing the ball on the ground. O'Gara pumped the penalty from the left to level it up.

England returned to their predictable, pragmatic approach. Farrell's delicate grubber forcing a lineout from Rob Kearney. The ensuing maul was taken down and Farrell clipped it over for 9-6 in the 64th minute.

Then, Kearney was chopped down by Lawes and Garces awarded a penalty for not releasing. Farrell stepped up to make it 12-6 in the 66th minute. When Haskell returned to play, England had gained three points (6-3).

"There were some key moments for us, particularly the way we managed the sin-binning," said England coach Stuart Lancaster. "Ireland were growing into the ascendancy. We lost James to the bin. They put the pressure on. The way we managed that period to end up 12-6 was great.

"I thought our technical discipline was good. It was composure in the heat of battle. It was very difficult to come and play rugby against a side as a good as Ireland.

"This is right up there. It is about small margins. It was going to be a gain-line battle. It was great to start with a win, even better to win away."

It concluded a weekend of sub-standard rugby in which those in the southern hemisphere countries must have had a good chuckle at their northern counterparts.

The first round of the Six Nations was said to be the best since Italy's accession. The second round must have been the worst.


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