Danny Cipriani scored 18 points in his first start at flyhalf as England thrashed Ireland 33-10 at Twickenham.
If Brian Ashton is not sacked by the RFU at the end of March, the coach will have Cipriani to thank. Ironically, it was Ashton who axed the 20-year-old from the side that lost to Scotland last Saturday when he was caught leaving a nightclub just after midnight. Many thought England would have won at Murrayfield had Cipriani been there, and after this victory against Ireland few would disagree.
Eddie O’Sullivan, however, will almost certainly be looking for a new job. The Irish coach was given a stay of execution after a nightmare World Cup, but three Six Nations defeats should see the guillotine fall.
O’Sullivan would have been optimistic about keeping his job after seven minutes of this match when his side led 10-0. After a quick tap from a line-out, left wing Robert Kearney switched with fullback Geordan Murphy and scored the first try of the game. Flyhalf Ronan O’Gara kicked the conversion and then added a penalty to take his side into double figures.
However, by the end of the first quarter England had drawn level. Cipriani scored his first Test points via a penalty and winger Paul Sackey then started and finished an attack that resulted in his side’s opening try.
With Cipriani at 10, England were able to play an exciting, expansive game that was worlds apart from the rubbish they dished up at Murrayfield. They should have scored a second try when Jamie Noon broke the Irish defence, but the centre lost possession just before the line. A second penalty from Cipriani saw the hosts go into the break with a three-point lead, and you got the feeling Ireland were simply hanging on.
Cipriani kicked another penalty soon after the restart, before replacement Mathew Tait grabbed England’s second try on the hour-mark to make it 23-10. When Ireland got their hands on the ball in the second half, they lacked direction, especially in the centres. When they entered England’s 22, they either knocked on or turned over possession. It was woeful stuff.
With 12 minutes to go, Noon – voted Man of the Match – capped off an excellent individual performance with a barn-storming try of his own. Cipriani slotted the conversion and then added a penalty to make it seven out of seven.
England – Tries: Paul Sackey, Mathew Tait, Jamie Noon. Conversions: Danny Cipriani (3). Penalties: Cipriani (4).
Ireland – Try: Robert Kearney. Conversion: Ronan O’Gara. Penalty: O’Gara.
By Simon Borchardt