14 - 13
(Half Time 3 - 3)
Sat 28th Feb 09, 17:30
Venue: Croke Park
Referee: Craig Joubert
28 February 2009, 7:52 pm
Unbeaten Ireland edge out England
Ireland took a giant stride out of Wales' shadow and towards their first Grand Slam in 61 years with an attritional 14-13 victory over England at Croke Park.
Ireland are not a side who make bold public statements of intent and until this round of games it had been Wales’ bid for successive clean sweeps that had dominated the headlines.
But Warren Gatland’s men faltered in Paris last night - and Ireland took full advantage to move alone on top of the RBS 6 Nations table.
England battled all the way but were again let down by moments of madness, not least from Danny Care who sent Martin Johnson into fits of rage in the stands when he was sin-binned for a mindless barge on Marcus Horan with 11 minutes remaining.
At that stage, Ireland only led 11-6 but Ronan O’Gara’s penalty pushed them two scores clear - and it proved crucial after Delon Armitage latched onto Andy Goode’s grubber kick to score with two minutes remaining.
England’s title chances are over after suffering their second defeat in three games. Ireland, meanwhile, march on.
Revitalised and rejuvenated by Declan Kidney’s arrival, the mental frailties that have so often undermined Irish rugby appear to have been stamped out.
Brian O’Driscoll is showing the form of old. He scored a try, a drop-goal and was named man of the match as Ireland secured a third Triple Crowns in four years.
Ireland retained the same starting XV for a third consecutive game and John Hayes, the remarkably durable Munster tight-head prop, won an Irish record-equalling 92nd cap.
England continued their fly-half merry-go-round with Toby Flood preferred to Goode. It was England’s seventh change of pivot in 10 Tests, a statistic which encapsulates the challenge Johnson faces in rebuilding a once mighty team.
Despite the narrow final score, this was not a match to live long in the memory.
Most of the build-up in and around the England camp had been on discipline after they had received eight yellow cards in three Tests. That tally now stands at 10 in four after Phil Vickery and Care were both despatched to the cooler.
England spent most of a physical first half forced onto the back foot by the ferocious Irish forwards.
Under pressure, England were penalised seven times in 40 minutes and were fortunate not to be trailing after O’Gara missed two relatively simple shots at goal.
Neither side showed any real inclination to play rugby and the 81,000-plus Croke Park crowd spent long periods craning their necks to watch aimless bouts of kick-tennis.
England’s early glimpses of adventure, with nice touches from Riki Flutey and Mike Tindall, came to nothing as they twice ignored overlaps.
And from the moment Joe Worsley was overwhelmed at the breakdown, it was Ireland who edged the physical battle and they enjoyed 59% of the first-half possession.
O’Gara almost created the opening try with a deft chip over the top for Tommy Bowe but Mark Cueto reacted smartly to win the race and touch down.
After two simple misses, O’Gara finally nudged Ireland onto the scoreboard just before the half-hour mark as England scrambled to recover after Flood’s pass had been intercepted by O’Driscoll.
England managed to draw themselves level just before the interval with a Flood penalty from their one foray into the Irish 22.
But Ireland started the second half like a train, helped by James Haskell and then Flood conceding careless penalties.
O’Driscoll snapped over a drop-goal before Ireland built 10 minutes of virtually unbroken pressure and tempers began to fray.
A series of tit-for-tat off-the-ball barges ended with referee Craig Joubert issuing a stern warning to England captain Steve Borthwick after Armitage was penalised for taking out O’Driscoll.
Tomas O’Leary sniped to within inches of the line before Joubert’s patience finally snapped and Vickery was sent to the sin-bin as England defended desperately.
Ireland opted for the scrum and O’Driscoll crashed over from close range to score his third try of the championship.
O’Gara had an off day with the boot and missed with the conversion before Johnson began to ring the changes, with Mathew Tait, Care, Goode and Dylan Hartley all sent on.
In the midst of the changes, Armitage reduced the arrears to 11-6. England were still in with a chance - but then Care decided to crash into Horan from behind and was yellow-carded.
In the stands Johnson was furious as O’Gara slotted the simple penalty from in front of the posts.
England staged a late rally with Goode and Tindall breaking through the Irish midfield before Armitage sprinted onto Goode's grubber kick to score.
Goode landed the tough conversion but England ran out of time and victory was Ireland’s.