One day we will see the all-new, all-action total rugby which England say is necessary to win a World Cup in South Africa. But back here in the dear old Five Nations' Championship, in the deepest midwinter Dublin could have provided, a rougher reality was bound to intrude.
Thus England played in a fashion more in keeping with their old regime than the new one which has been talking such a good game all season. They had every excuse, with the wind howling like a banshee down Lansdowne Road and rocking the goalposts as if they were Englishmen who had had too much of the black stuff.
There were a few of those by the small hours of yesterday, though their celebration had less to do with the flourish of England's winning performance than its straightforward functionalism. In these perishing conditions, it had been - and needed - a massive effort by massive men. No frills, nothing fancy.
What it told us was that England, who have tended to be below the Euclid class when problems have required solving, worked this one out before they took the field. Jack Rowell, the manager, had been saying they had two plans, which could be loosely called the entertaining one and the boring one, and his team had no compunction about adopting the latter.
This is not to say the game was boring as such, but on a day like this it could never have been the spectacle that we are constantly assured England favour. Instead it was a trial of strength, not just of who could win the ball but more importantly who could keep it. In this, the English pack's physical advantage was so great that they could hardly lose.
On the other hand, it told us virtually nothing about how the back row might function when the going is firm because their pace or lack of it was of such marginal importance. Even with Anthony Foley having a rousing debut, the Irish loose forwards were utterly outplayed.
In a match mostly conducted at close quarters with the tackling fierce and frequent, Rodber, Clarke and especially the awesome Richards are almost irresistible. "The intensity of the hits was huge, and it takes big men to give them and big men to withstand them," Rowell said.
"It's an overall trend in the game, for better or worse - and that's no criticism of anyone who doesn't fall into that category - that seems to be overtaking the finesse that the smaller open sides, for example, might display." Dublin is not Durban but the post-match musings of manager Jack are cold comfort for the Neil Backs of this rugby world.
As they were, too, for the Irish. "Rugby is getting to be a big man's game," Brendan Mullin, the captain, said, prompting Noel Murphy, the manager, to come up with the contrary suggestion that, although there were not many big men in Ireland, they were nAdapt is what England, to their great credit, did. Choosing to play upwind became a masterstroke when the pack controlled proceedings so tightly that England, far from struggling through to half-time, actually turned round 12-3 ahead. Nor was winning the toss the only thing Will Carling did right; this was one of the captain's very finest games for his country.
Not least, he contributed to the creation of all three of his team's tries, scoring the first after Kyran Bracken and Rob Andrew had driven an awkward line-out ball into the heart of the Irish defence. He made the second by taking four defenders with himin creating the short-range maul from which first Rodber, then Ubogu and finally Ben Clarke thrust for the line.
Carling's role in committing tacklers was equally important when Tony Underwood added England's only second-half try - a thrilling passage of play but on its own a disappointingly modest return from a series of clear chances. As was their wont Ireland, in the form of Patrick Johns, lost the ball in a tackle and England came away through Bracken, Clarke, Rodber, Bracken again, Andrew, Bayfield, Carling, Bracken yet again, Tony Underwood and Rodber before the younger Underwood received a return pass to score. At this point, with 21 minutes remaining, England were looking at a record win in Ireland but somehow they contrived to stick on 20 points and four minutes into injury time Foley tapped a penalty to himself and obtained the consolation he, more thanany Irishman, deserved with a try in the corner.
If there were no records, it was still the first time England had scored three tries at Lansdowne Road since the war, in fact the first time since Peter Cranmer's team scored seven in 1938. (Cranmer's reward was to lose the captaincy for the Scotland match that followed). Given that not long ago England were finding try-scoring an impossibility, this is a measure of significant improvement as well as achievement.
But with France next up at Twickenham on 4 February, they will not be deceived. For one thing, English discipline was sufficiently suspect for Ben Clarke to become the first international ever to be shown a yellow card, though when Patrick Thomas reachedfor his pocket it looked as if he was going to get the full red.
Clarke had first been warned for taking exception to Nick Popplewell's unpenalised practice of pulling on Victor Ubogu's leg whenever they packed down and was eventually "booked", if that is the expression, for trampling in an uncomradely way on his Bathteam-mate, Simon Geoghegan.
For another thing, Ireland were far more limited opposition than the French will be. In Dublin the crack is always as good as the Guinness but not all of it is entirely accurate and, good as the English were, the Irish were nowhere near as good as they had been cracked up to be.
Ireland: Try Foley; Penalty Burke. England: Tries Carling, Clarke, T Underwood; Conversion Andrew; Penalty Andrew.
IRELAND: C O'Shea (Lansdowne); S Geoghegan (Bath), B Mullin (Blackrock College, capt), P Danaher (Garryowen), N Woods (Blackrock College); P Burke (Constitution), N Hogan (Terenure College); N Popplewell (Wasps), K Wood (Garryowen), P Clohessy (Young Munster), M Galwey (Shannon), N Francis (Old Belvedere), A Foley (Shannon), P Johns (Dungannon), D Corkery (Constitution). Replacement: G Fulcher (Constitution) for Francis, 40.
ENGLAND: M Catt (Bath); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), K Bracken (Bristol); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield, T Rodber (Northampton), D Richards (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath).
Referee: P Thomas (France).
WHERE THE MATCH WAS WON AND LOST POSSESSION Ball Won Possession Territory set loose 1st 2nd 1st 2nd Ireland 47 37 18 21 23 12
England 46 57 23 25 18 34
SCRUMS Award Won Ag head Percent Ireland 18 15 1 54
England 18 12 0 46
LINE-OUTS Award Won OT Per cent Ireland 22 12 9 43
England 16 16 10 57
PENALTIES Award Tap Punt Per cent Ireland 17 9 5 49
England 18 10 5 51
HALF-BACKS Rec Run Kick Pass Niall Hogan 34 3 2 29
Kyran Bracken 46 4 4 38
Paul Burke 18 4 7 7
Rob Andrew 28 5 14 9
Source: Unisys Information Services For SportReuse content