Ireland Ruin England’s Grand Slam Hopes

A late try from winger, Tommy Bowe and some heroic defence helped Ireland snatch a dramatic victory over England at a rain soaked Twickenham.

Johnny Wilkinson’s drop goal in the 72nd minute had put England in the driving seat and it appeared Ireland would go home empty handed until Bowe’s superb finish and a desperate rearguard action secured a victory sweet enough to erase the memory of the loss to France.

Questions had been asked about how the Irish players would respond in the wake of the Parisian nightmare, against an England team that had won its first two 6 Nations matches. The response was definitive with a performance of outstanding character and pure determination in challenging conditions.

Ireland faced plenty of adversity that could have made lesser teams crumble. They were manhandled at scrum time with John Hayes 100th cap turning quickly into a nightmare, and lost their captain, Brian O’Driscoll, to a nasty looking head injury following a collision with the knee of teammate Paul O’Connell mid way through the second half.

The big talk during the week leading up to the game had been the decision to hand Jonathan Sexton his first Six Nations start, instead of choosing Ronan O’Gara for such a heated encounter.

If there were any doubts about Sexton’s nerve he quickly dispelled them, turning provider for Ireland’s first try with a delicate kick ahead that Tommy Bowe raced onto to finish after just four minutes.

Following a sustained period of England possession, Ireland forced a turnover on the left hand touchline before launching a lightning fast counter attack from inside their own half. Jamie Heaslip held the attentions of three defenders before offloading to Sexton, whose perfectly timed kick was chased down by Bowe, leaving Twickenham momentarily silent.

The try set the tone for the rest of the game. England drove forward at every opportunity but there was a lack of creativity about their play and every attack was repelled by a resolute green wall of defence that missed only one of their ninety six attempted tackles during the game.

A heated game at Twickenham

For all of England’s possession they rarely threatened incision and O’Driscoll’s bone crunching hit on Ricky Flutey summed up the Irish mood.

If the out-half position had been a question mark for Ireland before the game it quickly became clear that England were also suffering problems at the position. Johnny Wilkinson, once the darling of Twickenham, was a shadow of his former self.

His normally metronomic goal kicking deserted him early on as he hit the upright with a relatively easy chance to put England on the board after twelve minutes, and he blew his side’s best chance of the first half soon after.

Some fine link play between scrum-half Danny Care and number 8 Nick Easter had dragged England to the Irish line but Wilkinson’s wasteful kick was over hit and allowed Geordan Murphy to defuse the danger.
He eventually put England on the board with a penalty after sixteen minutes. As conditions worsened, Sexton and he traded further penalties after the heavens opened to make the score 8- 6 at the break.
Sexton and Wilkinson both missed early penalties in the second half before a moment of madness from Care helped put Ireland in control.

Ireland had once again been penalised at the scrum and Care went looking for the ball to launch a quick attack however when Tomas O’Leary refused to hand it over Care foolishly took matters into his own hands. His judo style tackle was spotted by touch judge Christophe Berdos who instructed referee Mark Lawrence to reverse the penalty.
Sexton kicked deep to the corner and following the lineout David Wallace drove powerfully before O’Leary and Sexton combined to send Keith Earls over in the corner. Sexton missed the difficult conversion to leave the score at 13-6.

England responded almost immediately. Care’s clever chip forced Earls to concede a five metre scrum from which Ireland were penalised. England played the advantage and from a ruck under the posts prop Dan Cole plunged over the line despite Donnacha O’Callaghan’s best efforts.

The decision was referred upstairs to video referee Carlo Damasco, who awarded Cole a debut try after a lengthy deliberation.
Things got even worse for Ireland soon after.  O’Driscoll was stretchered off with a suspected concussion following a sickening collision with O’Connell’s knee, as both players attempted to gather a loose ball.

Ireland were understandably tired, having conceded around 70 per cent of possession and territory throughout the contest and Kidney rang the changes with ten minutes to go bringing on O’Gara, along  with Leinster duo Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings.

The momentum was now with England and when Wilkinson nudged them in front with a trademark drop goal it was difficult to see any way back for the men in green.

However Ireland refused to quit, showing the determination and ability to finish games that have been a hallmark of the Kidney era.  Their efforts were rewarded with a magnificent try.

Ireland - Never giving up

After some fine tactical kicking from O’Gara gave them a platform in English territory, O’Connell found O’Leary with quick lineout ball and he fed Bowe, who cut through the English defence and surged over for his second try to snatch a memorable victory.

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