Rugby Union: Dallaglio drives England home

Five Nations: Woodward's men turn up the power as inspirational captain counters his critics; Ireland 15 England 27 Pens: Humphreys 5 Tries: Perry, Rodber Con: Wilkinson Pens: Wilkinson 4 Drops: Grayson Half-time: 9-11 Attendance: 49,000
Click to follow
The Independent Online
SO MUCH for the fire and fury pouring forth from Ireland in the build-up to this match. On the day, and on the field, where it mattered, the Irish fire was well and truly doused and the life, such as it was, strangled out of them by this formidable England side. With Lawrence Dallaglio, so heavily criticised following his tepid performance in the Calcutta Cup match a fortnight ago, a colossal presence both as a leader and in his general play, and Kyran Bracken forcing the Irish to play to his tune, England were impressively in control for all but a brief spell late in the game when life was breathed into the dying embers of the Irish play.

But even then their lack of a cutting edge behind the scrum was all too apparent and having closed the gap to five points through David Humphreys' fifth penalty, it was England, predictably, who profited with Tim Rodber's try in injury time.

If much of the play was basic and prosaic by comparison with the outrageous extravagance at the Stade de France, there could be no denying England's supremacy up front, where Ireland had expected to lay bare the frailties which had seemed obvious a fortnight ago.

England's plan to draw the steam from the Irish pack in what was planned to be a torrid opening quarter worked better than they could ever have imagined. So successful were they in this period that the Irish could scarcely muster a half- decent drive. They and their plans were well and truly scuttled, and when England began to explore the boundaries beyond the scrum and line-out, Ireland's lack of pace in the back row was glaringly exposed.

In the line-out too England's jumpers were not only rock solid on their own ball but massively effective in threatening Ireland's - and neither Jeremy Davidson nor Paddy Johns could feel secure.

An early warning to Paul Wallace from the referee, who unfortunately had the greatest difficulty in separating himself from his whistle during the match, was another ominous sign for the Irish. They had hoped that Wallace, who lives on the cusp of legality in the caverns of the front row, would unsettle the English with his singularly awkward technique, but Paddy O'Brien was wise to it and the Irish scrum were never the danger that so many believed they would be before the match.

If Dallaglio and Bracken were the pick of the bunch for England, Jonny Wilkinson, who in addition to kicking four penalties landed the conversion of Rodber's try, had another immensely satisfying day for his country. His defence was as robust and accurate as it was against the Scots and apart from coming close to scoring himself on a couple of occasions, it was his sumptuously delivered pass to Matt Perry which opened the way for the full-back's try five minutes from half-time.

Paul Grayson controlled the game intelligently and imaginatively from fly-half, greatly helped, it has to be said by his half-back partner Bracken, and he even had the effrontery to drop a goal with his left foot two minutes after Perry's try. At this stage England were looking very impressive indeed and it was clear even then that they were going to be devilishly awkward to beat. What was even more obvious was that it would take a much better equipped side than Ireland to do it.

The Irish can have no complaints. They did nothing to help themselves. When Humphreys, with his fourth penalty, gave his side the lead within a minute of the start of the second half, the Irish proceeded to indulge in a series of calamitous manoeuvres. It was suicidal. First Conor O'Shea, running from his own line following Grayson's hoof up field, had found himself alarmingly short of power and even more crucially without any support. Then Humphreys lost possession on his 22 and Bracken, with a searing counter-attack was stopped short half a yard from the line.

Far too often Ireland's runners were stranded. This was a combination of their propensity for running from unpromising positions and the lack of pace of their support team. Whatever England's weaknesses might be, defence is not one of them and by pursuing this course Ireland were doomed to failure. In all probability no other option was open to them, given the failure of their forwards to wrest control from the opposition.

Eric Miller's belated arrival as the replacement to the ineffectual Victor Costello lifted Ireland's spirits briefly and with it their game. O'Shea came as close as any Irishman to the England line following Conor McGuinness's lateral run. But their only reward was Humphreys' fifth penalty.

Ireland's small gain turned out to be England's large profit. More crazy running from deep positions and Tim Rodber took advantage to score his second try in consecutive matches for England.

The damage, however, was done in the first half when England were encamped for long spells inside Ireland's 22. The tackling at this stage on both sides was uncompromising around the fringes and it was clear that space would be at a premium. But the fervour of the Irish forwards, so evident against France and for much of the game a fortnight ago against Wales, deserted them yesterday. It had a baleful effect on their game-plan and the threat to England's back three, who must have expected the mother of all shellings in that opening quarter, failed to materialise. In the event there was the dampest of squibs from Humphreys which fell to earth so far short of its target that Perry at full-back was never once tested. As the game progressed Perry became increasingly confident and apart from taking his try well he was a reliably solid last line of defence. It was only through Humphreys' goalkicking accuracy that Ireland stayed as close as they did.

If ultimately, England threatened more than they achieved, they are now the only side capable of winning the Grand Slam and there is no doubt that they played well enough in patches yesterday to suggest that they can do it.

Ireland: C O'Shea (London Irish); J Bishop (London Irish), K Maggs (Bath), R Henderson (Wasps), G Dempsey (Terenure College); D Humphreys (Dungannon), C McGuinness (St Mary's College); P Clohessy (Young Munster), K Wood (Harlequins), P Wallace (Saracens), P Johns (Saracens, capt), J Davidson (Castres), D O'Cuinneagain (Sale), V Costello (St Mary's College), A Ward (Ballynahinch). Replacements: E Miller (Terenure College) for Costello, 65; J Fitzpatrick (Dungannon) for Clohessy, 66-68.

England: M Perry (Bath); D Rees (Sale), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), J Guscott (Bath), D Luger (Harlequins); P Grayson (Northampton), K Bracken (Saracens); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), M Johnson (Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton), R Hill (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: N McCarthy (Gloucester) temporary replacement for Cockerill.

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand).