Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Pack in need of walking wounded: Barrie Fairall gathers opinion on why England failed their Irish test

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The Independent Online
THIS kind of anatomist comes armed with a pen, and barely had the beaten body ceased twitching than the search for clues was on. The evidence, though, was close at hand. While England stumbled and fumbled, Ben Clarke was making his press-box debut. Then again, a little later, Dean Richards mingled with the fallen.

Their absence from the heat of battle was crucial, the Irish able to capitalise on a vital missing ingredient. There is, after all, no substitute for experience and certainly not at this level. How ironic, then, in this anatomy of defeat that the back-row giants of English rugby should be laid low by similar injuries.

Richards, England's most capped No 8, dislocated his right elbow last month. Clarke, the rugby writers' player of the year, injured his right elbow in the streaky win over Scotland at Murrayfield just over a fortnight ago. To see these walking wounded at Twickenham was a reminder of what might have been.

England are in transition, the nucleus of a Grand Slam pack among the departed. Take away Probyn, Ackford, Dooley and Winterbottom and you have the makings of another bleak winter. France are next up and then come the cock-a-hoop Welsh, hungrily seeking their first Grand Slam since 1978.

Not all the news is bad. Clarke will be fit for Paris and, fingers crossed, Richards, too. The Tiger, amiably signing autographs, said: 'The elbow is coming along fine and I should be available for the French match.' Richards tends to keep the cards close to his chest, but when it comes to shuffling the pack this sounded like music to the ears of the English selectors.

As Simon Geoghegan, Ireland's tearaway try-scorer, said: 'We exploited their inexperienced back row.' Indeed, with four caps between them, England were fielding their most inexperienced trio since 1968 when Bryan West, David Gay and Peter Bell were all debut boys against Wales at HQ in 1968. At least they had the consolation of a draw.

All of which sounds rather harsh on Saturday's combination, in particular Steve Ojomoh. The decathlete, who made one or two storming runs, came within a whisker of clearing his first international hurdle with a try. 'I could have sworn the ball was on the line,' the Bath No 8 said. Seven minutes into the second half, he had surged away and stretched out one-handed for the score that would have brought personal glory and perhaps collective celebrations.

Meanwhile, Geoghegan, who generally only sees the ball in training, could afford to be generous. From England's point of view, he reckoned, 'the media expectation was too great. These are young guys and it is all about confidence.' And the lack of experience, which ultimately left the deserving Irish with a high and England feeling low.