With a minute on the clock in Twickenham yesterday, a stadium heaving with 81,555 fans getting full value from a terrific Test match, Ireland were working their fingers to the bone trying to prise an opening in the England defence.
That they were doing so mostly inside their own 10-metre line – and a fair bit of it around their own 22 – didn't help. At last, they managed to create an overlap down the west stand side, and the man in pole position was Dave Kearney.
Kearney is a player with heaps of promise and already is delivering on some of it. You'd have said he was the right man in the right place at the right time. So he quickly found top gear, eating up the ground, only to be tap-tackled successfully by a second row. That doesn't sound great if you're a winger, but then Joe Launchbury is no ordinary second row. Rather he is an outstanding talent, and that much was evident when he was England's best player at the under-20 World Cup only three summers ago.
Most of his attention yesterday had been dedicated to turning Ireland over at the breakdown, where he pilfered three priceless balls, but he then showed he could turn his hand to heroics out in open country – despite having been at the coalface for the previous 78 minutes – and with the game on the line.
And the contest was very much in the balance at that point. As expected, it came down to a score, and, as hoped, it was fantastic value for money. For the Irish fans in south-west London it didn't have the desired outcome, but they can't have too many complaints.
It seems ironic that referee Craig Joubert could be one of those gripes, for in the opening nine minutes of the second half he had penalised England six times on the bounce – he had done it three times in a row in the early stages of the first half – but the South African's refereeing of the back foot thereafter was, at best, loose. And if you were the team chasing the game that was a big issue.
Having turned a 3-0 half-time deficit into a 10-3 lead in that fruitful period, Ireland's supporters thought it would be the home team doing the chasing, but a wonderful try from Danny Care, soon after Rob Kearney had put Ireland ahead, shifted the goalposts.
It was significant that Kearney's try had come indirectly from a set-piece, for this was Ireland's go-to zone. Better still, they had a range of moves off that set-piece to open up England.
Twice they came close in the first half, and then the one that worked – courtesy of subtle obstruction from Paul O'Connell and a nice delivery from Jamie Heaslip – was straight from between Joe Schmidt's ears.
If your scrum and lineout are sound and you have a drawer-full of starter plays to get you close to scoring you might ask why Ireland lost. Well, in games as tight as these you need your key players on the money, and Johnny Sexton was a few Euro short. Small margins?
His punt for Andrew Trimble off a set play in the first half made the winger reach to retrieve rather than take it on the full. He did well to offload to Rob Kearney but the momentum had been lost.
Sexton's restart after Owen Farrell's second penalty of the game, to bring England back to 6-10 on 55 minutes, was short of the 10m line, and it was from there that they carved the opening for Care to score and change the complexion of the game.
A couple more of his punts weren't obviously scuffed, but a perfectionist like Sexton won't be happy. In the endgame you wondered if he was altogether there, for he had taken a few huge hits along the way, and when Paddy Jackson was running on with a few minutes left you expected it to be for the outhalf rather than outside-centre.
That physicality had been present from the start, but frequently in the last quarter Ireland were up against superior numbers in England's defensive line.
The home team were adept at identifying which rucks were contestible and which ones weren't, and when they spotted the latter they got extra numbers into their defensive line and put huge heat on Ireland's attack. To engineer the last-gasp opening for Dave Kearney in those circumstances was good going.
That pressure from England's defence in turn put Ireland's technique at the breakdown under the spotlight and Schmidt afterwards highlighted how it had diminished in quality from the wins over Scotland and Wales. Perhaps, but then this was an altogether different contest.
And of course it could have gone Ireland's way before the Launchbury heroics with a minute left. From another set-piece play 10 minutes earlier, replacement Dave Attwood insinuated himself into an Irish maul that was heading forward to the England line from about 15 metres out. O'Connell said afterwards that he was about to hand the ball to the second row, so far was he on Ireland's side, but Joubert reckoned he was there legally, and that was that.
What would Ireland have done with the penalty that would have accrued had the referee thought differently? Despite England's decent defence – which greatly pleased their coach Stuart Lancaster – against Ireland's lineout maul, they probably would have gone for touch. Like the New Zealand game in November, a draw was of no interest here.
It was win or nothing. Unfortunately Ireland got nothing, but they will be back for more against Italy and France.
England: M Brown; J Nowell, L Burrell, B Twelvetrees, J May; O Farrell, D Care; J Marler (M Vunipola 65), D Hartley (T Youngs 75), D Wilson (H Thomas 70), J Launchbury, C Lawes, T Wood (D Attwood 70), B Vunipola (B Morgan 37), C Robshaw (capt).
Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble (F McFadden 66), B O'Driscoll (P Jackson 79), G D'Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton , C Murray (I Boss 79); 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), J Heaslip, C Henry (J Murphy 74).
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa)
Sunday Indo Sport
An astonishing game of rugby. The exchanges were feral and the combatants went at each other with wolfish rapacity. England won because they were more precise in the close-out of the game and they were more certain in their defence. In a game of close margins, quite often that is the difference.