England 33 Ireland 10: Star is born as Cipriani runs show

Virtuoso display from new No 10 has Twickenham in raptures but defeat for Ireland leaves O'Sullivan on brink
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The Independent Online

It is too soon to hail a new Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land, but Twickenham Man, woman and child cheered to the rafters a first win over Ireland since the gilded Grand Slam and World Cup year of 2003 and the ushering centre stage of a new hero in the young Wasps fly-half Danny Cipriani.

The pre-match runes read that the coaches, Brian Ashton and Eddie O'Sullivan, were onedefeat from the sack; some said the noose was ready for either or both, come what may. England's restoration to a cohesive if not quite world-beating team allowed Ashton to stride past the metaphorical gallows. Not soO'Sullivan, whose four-year contract appears a mere bargaining tool should the Irish Rugby Football Union be in lynching mood.

"The big question for meis whether I still have thehunger, and I do, 110 per cent," O'Sullivan said.

Ashton answered a question about the summer tour to New Zealand with a measure of confidence. "This solidifies one or two selections," he said. "It's a nice way to finish the tournament."

England ended up second in the Six Nations table, their best finish since 2003. Ireland are out of the top three for the first time since 1999.

England won with three tries and Cipriani's 18 points from kicks – he did not miss, even when slipping over to take a hurried final conversion – though they remain in rehab after back-row and half-back injuries to Tom Rees, James Haskell, Lewis Moody, Dan Ward-Smith, Harry Ellis and Shane Geraghty, plus the wing David Strettle.

Yet Cipriani's very assuredness begged the question of what might have been if Ashton had trusted in him earlier. Like last summer, before the World Cup, when Ashton described Cipriani as possessing the "wow factor". Instead, Jonny Wilkinson continued to hold sway. Interviewed for TV straight after the final whistle yesterday, Cipriani let an f-word slip his lips, praising his forwards. On the field, he had not put a foot wrong.

And how was this for an unexpected England backs move, to create the try which put Ireland away at 23-10? Cipriani, from a ruck on the 22, to Lesley Vaini-kolo to Wilkinson (on at inside-centre a decade after his Test debut against the same oppo-nents) to Iain Balshaw to the scorer, Mathew Tait, who burned Rob Kearney with ease. That is what Tait, another back not trusted much by Ashton, can do.

England were brainless to begin with, and went 10 points down in six minutes. Steve Borthwick's blatant hand-off at a line-out gave Ireland a penalty,then England conceded a free-kick for closing the gap, Eoin Reddan tapped and ran and Kearney knifed through an awfully aligned defence.

O'Gara converted and added a penalty when Iain Balshaw, who might never have started in this Championship if Ashton had plumped for Cipriani at full-back, was whistled for holding on. It was Cipriani – commanding, cajoling and kicking – who gave the wake-up call. His first Test start was postponed after a midnight visit to a Mayfair bar, but Cipriani passed go with his first kick at goal here; a 35-metre penalty against Paul O'Connell for a hand in the ruck.

A good chance went begging when Nick Easter had his pass batted down by Kearney, but in the 19th minute a well-worked try brought England level. From a scrum the excellent Jamie Noon made a decoy run, Paul Sackey linked with Michael Lipman up the middle and Cipriani and Balshaw fed Sackey for his eighth try in 15 Tests.

With Tom Croft doing well at the line-out and Lee Mears busting a gut in the loose, England grew more solid. Cipriani fixed the defence and Noon sniped through to within a metre of the line. There were jaw-dropping moments, mainly involving Vainikolo, but anotherO'Connell misdemeanour allowed Cipriani to make it13-10 on 29 minutes, and he kicked another penalty four minutes into the second half.

Ireland's midfield was muddled without Brian O'Driscoll. The scrum-half, Reddan, has failed miserably to transfer his Wasps form to the Six Nations. Not so Cipriani. From a scrum in the Irish 22 with 12 minutes remaining, England loaded the short side and Cipriani passed to Noon, who crashed over.

It was a bit dull to ask Cipriani to kick a penalty in the 22in the 75th minute. He did it anyway.

Cipriani was picked too late for this Championship, but this much we know: at 20, time is on his side, even if for O'Sullivan and Ireland it may be up.