Pens: Elwood 11, 17 Tries: Sleightholme 19, 73
Gomarsall 65, Hill 76,
Underwood 79, 80
Pens: Grayson 15, 23, 42, 50
Cons: Grayson 65, 79
For England this always looked like being a day to be endured rather than enjoyed. The fact that for the second time in a fortnight they left it until the final quarter to cut loose casts continuing doubt over their all-round ability but it is impossible not to admire their staying power and ruthlessness in dispatching vastly inferior opponents.
With 15 minutes remaining, Ireland were still hanging on in the hope that they might yet cause a big upset. But with a mesmeric burst of energy England scored 27 points, including five tries - by Andy Gomarsall, Richard Hill, Jon Sleightholme and two by Tony Underwood, whose speed over the ground had bewitched the Irish from early on in the match.
In his pre-match briefing, Jack Rowell insisted that England would seek first to absorb then subdue. There was no question that his team would set out to impose their game on opponents who had boundless energy but limited ambition. On the other hand, Ireland were so vulnerable in key areas, most notably at half-back, that on a day when the benign conditions were ideally suited to carefree expression, it seemed a shame that England should spend so much of it looking like beleaguered parents struggling to control a rebellious and rumbustious brood.
Once again, though, this contest proved that passion alone does not win matches at this level. Throughout a first half facing the breeze, England clearly felt that to attempt a game beyond the attritional fringes of set-piece control, backed by Paul Grayson's powerfully accurate kicking and Gomarsall's bullish charges, would have been foolhardy, especially when Ireland's fire was searingly hot.
That England succeeded in dousing it may have been largely down to Irish incompetence and inadequacy behind the scrum. Nevertheless, there is only so much that a team can do in winning a match and in the first two rounds of this Five Nations campaign England have created new records in scoring and a reputation for finishing off opponents exhausted by the awesome force and control of a mighty pack and backs who yesterday displayed the killer touch.
Against that, Ireland bungled so many good attacking opportunities that they had only themselves to blame for going into the final quarter so far behind. They had neither the depth nor width to threaten England's defence in the first half. They were not helped, admittedly, by the concussion suffered after 11 minutes by Eric Miller who will now miss Leicester's Pilkington Cup tie with Newcastle on Saturday and Ireland's visit to Murrayfield a week later. Eric Elwood was another casualty, having taken the field with his right knee so heavily strapped that his movements were severely restricted.
This was all the more disappointing for the Irish forwards, who had only an Elwood penalty, kicked for offside, to show for keeping England penned in their own half for the first quarter of an hour. Eventually Elwood was forced to leave the field to be replaced by David Humphreys, whose appearance coincided with a greater urgency and fluency. Twice in the second half they exposed England's defence on the flanks with penetrative running and had it not been for Mark Regan's lunging tap tackle on the impressive Denis Hickie then Ireland might have regained the scent of blood. But by then the damage had been done by their own hand and by Grayson's boot, which for so much of the time covered a multitude of England's sins. The fly-half, who is becoming increasingly assertive in the position, finished with four penalties and two conversions.
Yet the abiding impression, save for the final glittering moments, was of an Ireland defeat which was largely self-inflicted. Leading 6-3 midway through the first half, Maurice Field botched a clearance kick to touch. Underwood fielded and weaved along the left touchline, setting up a ruck which England won. The ball moved at what can charitably be called a stately pace down the threequarter line to Sleightholme, who rounded James Topping to score in the corner. It was a dreadful blow to Ireland's morale as was Grayson's second penalty three minutes later. In one attack England had wiped out all Ireland's early efforts and one sensed the spirit draining from them.
England had, in Rowell's terms, absorbed the pressure and now it was time to subdue. Lawrence Dallaglio and Richard Hill worked tirelessly and effectively to keep the channels of communication open and England were now moving the ball at bewildering pace. Tim Stimpson, who is still troubled with his line kicking but who was scarcely required to find touch yesterday, is a potent threat from full-back. Martin Johnson had another mighty game in the England scrum, but as one whose candidacy for the Lions' captaincy is becoming stronger by the day, he must work to control his temper.
On one occasion yesterday he was caught stamping and was fortunate to escape with a cautionary warning. He is, nevertheless, a magnificent forward and possibly the outstanding lock in the world game. The tries now followed with bewildering rapidity. First Gomarsall, Sleight-holme and Hill ran in from short range to be followed by two lightning thrusts from Underwood and Ireland's embarrassment was complete.
Ashton pressure, page 18
Ireland: J Staples (Harlequins, capt); D Hickie (St Mary's College), J Bell (Northampton), M Field (Malone), J Topping (Ballymena); E Elwood (Lansdowne), N Hogan (Terenure College); N Popplewell, R Nesdale (both Newcastle), P Wallace, P Johns (both Saracens), J Davidson (London Irish), D Corkery (Bristol), E Miller (Leicester), D McBride (Malone). Replacements: A Foley (Shannon) for Miller, 12; D Humphreys (London Irish) for Elwood, 24; B O'Meara (Cork Constitution) for Hogan, 65.
England: T Stimpson (Newcastle); J Sleightholme (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins), P de Glanville (Bath, capt), T Underwood (Newcastle); P Grayson (Northampton), A Gomarsall (Wasps); G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), S Shaw (Bristol), L Dallaglio (Wasps), T Rodber (Northampton), R Hill (Saracens). Replacements: A Healey (Leicester) for Gomarsall, 73; J Guscott (Bath) for Carling, 77.
Referee: C Hawke (New Zealand).
How they stand
P W D L F A Pts
England 2 2 0 0 87 19 4
France 2 2 0 0 59 37 4
Wales 3 1 0 2 81 72 2
Ireland 3 1 0 2 47 103 2
Scotland 2 0 0 2 32 75 0
Remaining fixtures: 1 March: England v France (Twickenham); Scotland v Ireland (Murrayfield). 15 March: Wales v England (Cardiff Arms Park); France v Scotland (Parc des Princes).Reuse content