Rugby Union: England run out of control: Geoghegan inspires first reverse at Twickenham since 1988 as Wales relish stunning victory

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THUD and blunder. A slow handclap rising from one of the world's most courteous crowds before half-time bore testimony to a game of numbing mediocrity. The fear of losing matches at this level has all but obliterated the joy of playing, although Simon Geoghegan's gorgeous try just before the interval offered up some hope for romantics. In the end, though, England went peaceably, lambs to the slaughter. Their sleek machine, driven into a ditch a fortnight ago at Murrayfield - temporarily we thought - yesterday hit a tree.

The Irish game plan, it was felt, would be even simpler than England's. Stripping the game to its bare essentials, they would work the ball to Eric Elwood who would heap as much embarrassment and humiliation as he could on England's defensive triangle 'twixt wing and full back. But as Richard Wallace twice sped past a distracted Rory Underwood and Geoghegan, after two leaping passes in midfield, had whistled past his brother Tony on the other wing, Ireland's strategy was clearly more ambitious and effective than their opponents'.

Having discovered how slender is the line between success and failure at Murrayfield, England had determined not to attempt any flights of fancy. The plan was for controlled, disciplined play by the forwards massaged by equally controlled and accurate kicking from the half-backs, but it went sadly awry. Although England enjoyed a more productive afternoon from their line-out they were unable to gain control in any area and both Rob Andrew and Kyran Bracken were wretchedly off-key with their kicking. It was also England's misfortune that, this time, Jon Callard was unable to lead the great escape. The luck which had accompanied him in Edinburgh deserted him here. He twice hit a post and missed with four penalty kicks from eight attempts. Once again he looked awkward and vulnerable under the high ball and may be one of the casualties which must now be expected.

The new laws cannot yet be held responsible for England's abject inability to perform the basic function of committing an opponent before giving a pass. With regiments of players overlapping on the flanks England still failed to make the crucial pass count. Ireland made much more of their limited opportunities and there was no more zealous opportunist on the field than Geoghegan. Not only did he score Ireland's try but, apparently imprisoned in his own 22, he escaped Tony Underwood's pawing tackle and fly- hacked upfield where he trapped Andrew with what could only be described as a knee jerk. But it was Andrew who was penalised for failing to release and Elwood kicked his second penalty.

It was a critical moment because England, for once, had built up sufficient steam to put Ireland under sustained pressure and although a try never seemed remotely likely, a penalty was always a possibility. Having failed to come close to a try in the previous three internationals, England would happily have settled for any kind of a score. Callard did succeed with his fourth penalty a couple of minutes later but Geoghegan's challenge went unanswered.

England's backs, by now without hope or direction, took one wrong turning after another and Andrew, poor boy, sank ever deeper into the mire. The malfunction in his kicking had spread to his handling and passing. The world's most experienced fly-half can seldom have had a more miserable day.

Yet still there was just one point in it. Will Carling broke over halfway with Tony Underwood racing up outside on the right. The line lay a long way ahead but the path was clear. The pass, though, was dropped and in that moment England knew the full extent of their fall from the dizzy heights of 1992.

In their pomp England may have lacked subtlety but they intimidated opponents by their physical supremacy. Yesterday they had neither the muscular authority nor the tender touch. They should have Dean Richards and Ben Clarke fit for Paris. After four matches without a try they need Jeremy Guscott and they can no longer afford the lapses in concentration which so often afflict the Underwood brothers. Bracken may not be forgiven for another indifferent performance and may give way to Dewi Morris although that surely would be a backward step. With the Triple Crown and the Grand Slam wiped at a stroke from their horizon there is little left but to build for tomorrow, which cannot be as bleak as today.

England: Penalties: Callard 4. Ireland: Try Geoghegan; Conversion Elwood; Penalties Elwood 2.

ENGLAND: J Callard (Bath); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins capt), P de Glanville (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), K Bracken (Bristol); J Leonard, B Moore (both Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield, T Rodber (both Northampton), S Ojomoh (Bath), N Back (Leicester).

IRELAND: C O'Shea (Lansdowne); R Wallace (Garryowen), M Field (Malone), P Danaher (Garryowen), S Geoghegan (London Irish); E Elwood (Lansdowne), M Bradley (Cork Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Greystones), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Clohessy (Young Munster), M Galwey (Shannon), N Francis (Old Belvedere), B Robinson (Ballymena), P Johns (Dungannon), D McBride (Malone). Temporary replacement: K O'Connell (Sunday's Well) for Robinson, 55-57.

Referee: P Thomas (France).

Livewire Geoghegan, page 7

(Photograph omitted)