Ireland inflicted England’s first loss of the Six Nations with a 20-16 win at Twickenham.
England were under huge pressure from their public and media to play an expansive and open game, although it clearly doesn’t suit them. The opening exchanges saw them carry through a number of phases, but once they had tired, Ireland pounced.
Brilliant counter-rucking saw them claim turnover ball, which was quickly spread wide to flyhalf Jonny Sexton, who grubbered through to put Tommy Bowe over after three minutes.
Jonny Wilkinson, who also struggled in general play, missed an early penalty, but later narrowed the deficit with a three-pointer.
As the driving rain came down after 18 minutes, England were forced to change their game-plan, while the visitors continued to play for territory.
Ireland kicked much more and kicked better than England, although they had far less possession. However, England couldn’t take advantage of the amount of ball they had due to Ireland’s proficiency at stealing and slowing down ball, with referee Mark Lawrence much more lenient at the breakdown than he has been in the Super 14.
Sexton and Wilkinson traded penalties before the break as Ireland led 8-6.
In the second half, both kickers missed early attempts at goal, but the visitors continued to take their opportunities when they arose. After a brief spell in England’s 22, Sexton’s change of direction behind a ruck put wing Keith Earls over in the corner.
The English pack dominated at scrum-time, and used this advantage to get back into the contest. Playing a tighter, driving game that suited their strengths, tighthead Dan Cole was awarded a try by the TMO as the hosts drew level heading into the final quarter.
Wilkinson missed another penalty, but after some good work in the build-up from his halfback partner Danny Care, the English pivot slotted a drop-goal to put his side ahead for the first time in the Test.
English joy was short-lived, however. Bowe claimed his second straight off the top of a lineout, with the feed from scrumhalf Tomas O’Leary an exact replica of how the Springboks scored against the Lions in the second Test when Fourie du Preez fed JP Pietersen.
Ireland had little ball, but scored three tries, while England managed just one with their surfeit of possession and that tells the story of the match and the abilities of both sides.
Ireland now face Wales after a week’s break, while England travel to Murrayfield to face Scotland.
By Grant Ball