Ireland travelled to a damp Twickenham as England looked to secure an previously unthinkable runners-up medal with their young and inexperienced side. Let us know your thoughts on the game either in the comments below or on Twitter @BallinTouch
With the destination of the Six Nations Trophy already decided, this was a battle for second place. Like in Cardiff the weather was a bit grim, a sheen of rain lying on the pitch.
The first scrum of the game yielded an immediate penalty for England which Farrell slid over for the three points. It was to be a telling omen for the afternoon.
Ireland’s first chance came after a series of turnovers for both sides ended up in the mitts of Keith Earls, the centre causing the Twickenham crowd to catch their breath with his speed before ignoring the man outside and ending up enveloped in the arms of the covering Ben Foden.
Lee Dickson made a stuttering start, struggling with the wet ball on several occasions. When Farrell hastily cleared the ball to half way, Rob Kearney surprised everyone with a snatch drop goal attempt that hit the post, bouncing into the arms of Ben Morgan to clear.
Like in last year’s match in Dublin, the Irish were extremely competitive at the breakdown and unsettled the English forwards in the loose. When a counter-ruck gave Sexton the chance to put a bomb just outside the English 22, Foden failed to collect it and Barritt conceded the penalty from an offside position. Jonny Sexton bisected the posts with the resulting kick and the score was back level.
England continued to edge the scrums, Reddan illegally booting the ball away from the back of a wheeling scrum. With a warning from the ref sent the Irish way, Farrell kicked the penalty.
With the ball proving soap-like, both sides struggled to build the phases and the crowd remained fairly subdued by the scrappy nature of the game, the game becoming fought in the rucks and mauls of the increasingly muddy centre of the pitch.
With little of note to entertain in the first half despite both sides trying to play rugby, efforts by England to run don the final thirty seconds of the half backfired when they conceded a penalty in their own 22 that Sexton punished them for and narrowed the gap to only three points to England at half-time.
Ben Youngs was an early substitute for the stuttering Dickson, whilst another lightning fast break down the wing by Tom Croft was less successful than last week’s try, his attempt to offload to support ending with the ball being fumbled forward almost comically to the groans of the crowd.
The English pack crushed their Irish counterparts on their own scrum and Farrell made the score 12-6 but poor handling lead to another Irish penalty, Sexton keeping his 100% record.
With the game seemingly to be decided through penalties, Farrell dinked the ball over the Irish defence and Thomas O’Leary had no choice but to carry the ball over the line to give England the scrum five metres out.
The English power came through and as the scrum splintered Tom Palmer dived on the ball to apparently score a try. However after checking with the TMO Nigel Owens confirmed he had already blown the whistle for another penalty. England didn’t have to wait long though and Ireland conceded the penalty try at the next scrum. Farrell kicked the extras from in front of the posts to extend England’s lead to 19-9.
With the English scrum feeling empowered after their penalty try, the front 8 gave Farrell another three points with another drive, the Irish set piece trundling backwards at speed.
Another Earls break unsettled the English defence and again he failed to make the crucial pass. A cross field kick by O’Leary was too far in front of Heaslip and the chance was lost.
With the scrum in tatters Ireland couldn’t build their play and England continued to punish them at the scrum. Another failed restart saw Ben Youngs surprise the Irish defence with a quick tap penalty to dive over to take the score to 27-9. Finally Farrell showed he was fallible and pushed the conversion wide.
The tide was definitely surging England’s way and a sloppy offside from Ireland in front of their own posts meant Farrell took the final score to 30-9.
Despite all the talk of a new England with attacking, it was the English pack that will get all the headlines. The loss to injury of Mike Ross meant a stuttering scrum was left staggering the more and more England became energised by the rate at which they pushed the Irish around.
Like the Wales game the weather played its part, the unforced error count being uncomfortably high. As a result the electric Irish backline never got a chance to get going and the game played into English hands.
The front row punished any sign of weakness whilst the guys behind them also caused havoc when they got the chance. Tom Croft continued to show a return to Lions ’09 form but will not want to see that final pass again. Similarly Ben Morgan had a field day as the game became more and more of an arm wrestle.
Within the centres Barritt continued to be industrious in defence and attack, always making yards with the ball even if he wasn’t making pure line breaks.
Farrell was Farrell-esque, one missed conversion the only notable blemish on another solid performance. More heartening was seeing Youngs take his chance and showing at least part of the Youngs of old that excited so many when he made his debut. Lancaster removing him from the limelight for a while seems to have done the trick, his technique at the base showing a marked improvement.
For the Irish none really had a chance to shine when so many were going in the wrong direction. The likes of Best, O’Ryan, Ferris, Bowe and Kearney have impressed in previous matches but none of them could impose themselves on the game today.
The lack of depth at tighthead will be a concern for Ireland and they will be looking for options before they jet off on the summer tours. Tighthead is such an underrated position in the public eye but is possibly the most important position in a whole team. Without a solid scrum a team can do nothing and that point was proved today.
The discussions in England will once again turn to the position of Stuart Lancaster despite beating Ireland by 21 points, the team that denied England the Grand Slam in such destructive terms just last year. Even with another great effort and signs of progress from his young side, the fear is the RFU will give his job to someone else.
Wales have just won the Grand Slam with a young inexperienced side and getting on for two years together across two Six nations and a World Cup. With a few ifs and buts England could have been realistic challengers for the title today which is an astonishing suggestion when you consider the state of English rugby at the turn of the year. They have been together 8 weeks.
Give him the job RFU. To remove him and the environment that has been created would be cutting their nose off to spite their own face. It is becoming a regular comment for me but the inclusion of Lancaster in the next England set up will be crucial for the integration of anyone new who comes in. Supplement the set up, not replace.
Anyway, back to the rugby. The lessons we have learned are that England have the makings of a good side and the Summer Tours will prove very interesting. Hopefully a full squad is taken rather than the B side and we can see how they match up to a Southern hemisphere side. The worst thing England can do now is start to believe their own hype.
Ireland meanwhile will be looking to the next generation to come through now. Sticking with what they’ve got hasn’t provided any rewards beyond what was expected of them. Better than Scotland and Italy, not as good as Wales and France (despite being above them on points difference in the final table) and subject to the usual will they, won’t they against England.
Nonetheless both sides have had moments to savour and again we have had an enjoyable Six Nations. Unfortunately for these sides the trophy belongs to Wales for now and the rest are the chasing pack. It will be interesting to see who can catch them up but hey, we’ve got a while to go yet. Here’s looking forward to Six Nations 2013.
ENGLAND (9) 30
Try: penalty, Youngs Con: Farrell Pens: Farrell 6
IRELAND (6) 9
Pens: Sexton 3
England : 15-Ben Foden, 14-Chris Ashton, 13-Manu Tuilagi, 12-Brad Barritt, 11-David Strettle, 10-Owen Farrell, 9-Lee Dickson; 1-Alex Corbisiero, 2-Dylan Hartley, 3-Dan Cole, 4-Mouritz Botha, 5-Geoff Parling, 6-Tom Croft, 7-Chris Robshaw (captain), 8-Ben Morgan
Replacements: 16-Lee Mears, 17-Matt Stevens, 18-Tom Palmer, 19-Phil Dowson, 20-Ben Youngs, 21-Charlie Hodgson, 22-Mike Brown.
Ireland : 15-Rob Kearney, 14-Tommy Bowe, 13-Keith Earls, 12-Gordon D’Arcy, 11-Andrew Trimble, 10-Jonathan Sexton, 9-Eoin Reddan; 1-Cian Healy, 2-Rory Best (captain), 3-Mike Ross, 4-Donncha O’Callaghan, 5-Donnacha Ryan, 6-Stephen Ferris, 7-Sean O’Brien, 8-Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: 16-Sean Cronin, 17-Tom Court, 18-Mike McCarthy, 19-Peter O’Mahony, 20-Tomas O’Leary, 21-Ronan O’Gara, 22-Fergus McFadden.
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