It was not quite a war of attrition and not quite a gold trophy for the Irish in three years with a tremulous victory over England here.
On a bitterly cold evening, Ireland knew that they needed to put 34 points between themselves and the reigning world champions to win their first championship title since 1985. Nobody was betting on that but there was plenty of money on an Irish victory which was not sealed until the 78th minute, when Shane Horgan rounded off a brilliant counter-attack for the decisive try. It was the right-wing's second of the match and there was nothing that England could do about it, although Horgan's first was surrounded in controversy.
Andy Goode looked as if he had got England out of a fine old mess with penalties in the 67th and 74th minutes which gave his side the lead at 24-21. However, with a couple of minutes left on the clock Horgan broke free down the right and was stopped a yard or two short of the line by a magnificent tackle from Lewis Moody. When Ireland recycled the ball Horgan again found himself in possession close to the corner flag and although again he was tackled by Moody, the Irishman stretched full-length and managed to plant the ball over the line with his right hand.
For Ireland a crown and second place; for England a third successive defeat and, for the second season in a row, the anonymity of fourth place.
After France had beaten Wales in Cardiff, all England had to play for was pride and salvation and they couldn't have wished for a better start. Ireland failed to tidy up the ball from the kick-off andconceded a soft try.
After England had won a free-kick, Ellis linked with his partner Goode, who shipped a straightforward ball to Jamie Noon. Noon looked to his left, gave half a shimmy and simply crashed through Gordon D'Arcy's tackle for a try that warmed the hip flasks, if not the cockles, of the majority of the Twickenham crowd.
If it was a dream beginning, England quickly had a wake up call and the man running into a nightmare was Ben Cohen. Brian O'Driscoll put in a long, low, raking kick and the England left wing had plenty of time to deal with it. As he was about to collect, Cohen lost his footing and that was enough to enable Horgan to score a controversial try.
As the ball eluded the fallen Cohen it brushed the white paint of the right-hand touchline and the touch judge Rob Dickson had his flag at half-mast before lowering it again. He should have kept it raised. Horgan tapped the ball infield with his right boot and fell on it over the line. Two tries within eight minutes and then the plot unravelled.
Nigel Whitehouse issued a stream of penalties but in a swirling, icy wind neither side was able to fully take advantage. When Joe Worsley pulled down a maul in the 13th minute, O'Gara kicked the penalty but thereafter it was breakdown followed by interruption followed by a missed kick at goal. Perhaps the sub-zero temperatures had something to do with it.
O'Gara and Goode, two of the best goal-kickers in the business, proceeded to harm their averages with an average display of marksmanship. A kick that O'Gara could have put over in his sleep was wasted when Peter Stringer took a tap penalty and the Irish ran straight into trouble. It is called a rush of blood.
Noon suffered a head injury, the blood mixing with the rose on his jersey and that allowed Mike Tindall to come on. In between O'Gara and Goode losing their way, Ireland manufactured a chance down the left flank. O'Driscoll had Gordon D'Arcy free on his left and an orthodox pass would have been sufficient. Instead the Irish captain delivered a pass that was so high a giraffe would have had problems catching it. D'Arcy had no chance.
Ireland's reward for a period of sustained pressure was another penalty by O'Gara which nudged them 11-5 ahead and things got worse for England when Simon Shaw, not so much from an offside position as in a different borough, foolishly tried to impede Stringer. It was a half-hearted indiscretion which warranted a penalty but what the giant lock got was a yellow card.
Goode, having missed successive penalties midway through the half, was finally on target in the 33rd minute to make it 11-8 to Ireland, before O'Gara missed with another attempt two minutes before the interval.
Ireland increased their lead two minutes into the second half when Lewis Moody conceded a penalty and O'Gara, with his third successful kick from six, increased his side's lead to six points. It lasted seconds. From the resultant kick-off, Paul O'Connell knocked on, a team-mate fell offside and Goode, into the wind, landed the kick, his second from five attempts.
The pattern of the shoot-out changed when England managed to put together a fine sequence of play that stretched Ireland's defence to the limit. The pressure told when Goode's pass sailed past Worsley, who had the effect of a red herring on the Irish defence, and was snapped up not by a threequarter but the lock Steve Borthwick. He ran manfully through an accommodating gap in midfield for his first try in 27 appearances for his country. Goode's conversion put England four points to the good but that was obliterated in the 58th minute by another contentious Irish try.
O'Gara had pushed England to within yards of their own line and the throw from touch by Lee Mears went, for some strange reason, long. There was only the white jersey of Moody hovering at the tail and the throw was read by Denis Leamy, who crossed the line - but did he drop the ball first? The video official thought not and Ireland were in sight of the triple crown.
However, they still needed to touch the three leafed clover that was nestling in their pocket.Reuse content