England 13 Ireland 10 match report: Danny Care delivers dash of polish for gritty England

Scrum-half exploits gap in Ireland’s defences to thrust Lancaster’s men into the chjampionship reckopning, writes Hugh Godwin at Twickenham

Twickenham

The Six Nations’ Championship will have no Grand Slam winner this year, but there may be an English Triple Crown and if the fallibilities of all the teams involved may reflect poorly in world terms, there is no denying the excitement now as four of them have two wins each and a chance of the title.

England will host Wales here on Sunday week emboldened by beating a vastly more experienced Ireland side thanks to a single try of creativity and dash plus a deluge of grit and determination in a score-free final quarter.

Brian O’Driscoll’s world record 139th cap did not last the course –Ireland’s great centre limped off in the last minute – and nor did the men in green’s bid for the Slam, on the back of their thumping wins over Scotland and Wales. Fears that England’s tight five forwards might buckle in the absence of the injured tighthead prop Dan Cole were unfounded as the recently incapacitated Davey Wilson did a sterling shift in the scrum.

 

There were other heinous weaknesses in England’s game but a lack of perseverance when they fell behind to Rob Kearney’s controversial try soon after half-time was not among them. The cheer when England’s Joe Launchbury made a lung-busting tackle on Dave Kearney on one wing and Owen Farrell snuffed out the last Irish attack, kicking through a ruck on the other, must have been heard from Scarborough to the Somerset Levels.

England suffered their long- lingering weakness of failing to exploit an overlap when their best chance of a first-half try was lost in the seventh minute. Billy Vunipola, the No 8 who would be substituted after injury by Ben Morgan before half-time, was held near the posts with a five-on-two developing to his right. Ireland regrouped but still England could have put Jack Nowell in with straighter angles of running. Instead they cramped the space and time of Jonny May, who lost control as he dived for the line in a double tackle by Andrew Trimble and Conor Murray.

Earlier in the same move Danny Care had taken the wrong option, burrowing instead of passing, and Murray, his opposite number at scrum-half, made the same mistake for Ireland in the 17th minute,  ruining an attack that had begun sweetly at a line-out with decoy runs by both of the centres Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll, and a  cross-kick from Johnny Sexton at fly-half to Trimble.

It was tense, terse stuff, in search of the Triple Crown. Farrell shoulder-barged Murray at the cost of a penalty. A minute later – the 21st – Sexton was penalised, rolling on the floor one rotation too many. Petulance and silliness, unworthy of the principal Lions fly-halves from last summer, but Sexton in particular had a wider ambition, running loop moves and kicking to move  around England’s inexperienced wings May and Nowell.

The first points came from Farrell after 23 minutes: a penalty from 50 metres against Paul O’Connell for jumping across a line-out. When Ireland wheeled a scrum soon afterwards, England’s No 10 hit a post from 10 metres further in. Then Vunipola, the dynamic fulcrum of the preceding narrow loss in France and 20-0 win in Scotland, went off, having jammed his right foot in the turf taking a tackle. Ireland’s No 8 Jamie Heaslip, by contrast, was looking good, snuffing England out with a brilliant smother of their big centre Luther Burrell, to add to a turnover of surgical precision early on.

Ireland cutely hit England with a bolt from the blue a minute into the second half. Rob Kearney shot through a gap between Dylan Hartley and Launchbury with Heaslip’s pass and Sexton converted for a 7-3 lead. But this was not a sink hole in keeping with southern England’s sodden fields but something man-made by Ireland’s 34-year-old captain Paul O’Connell sneakily baulking Launchbury.

It looked dodgy for England when they conceded a driving maul penalty kicked by Sexton for 10-3, and though Farrell replied with a poor reward for another overlap achingly wasted, Brown fumed as May threw a panicky pass in his face as Sexton pinned England back. The home team craved a shift in momentum. They soon got it when Sexton’s restart out on the full gave England a scrum and although the ball squirted out alarmingly, it was run back by the daring Nowell and, near halfway, Farrell and Chris Robshaw – with a smart inside pass – fed Brown at full tilt. The Harlequins full-back had his club-mate Care at his shoulder for a thrilling sixth try in 45 Tests, Farrell converted and England were 13-10 ahead with 23 minutes remaining.

Farrell’s spirit was unbending; he kicked beautifully for touch but the position came to nothing; Sexton knocked on trying to weave another pattern with O’Driscoll. The England pack welcomed Dave Attwood into their midst and the lock immediately disrupted an Ireland maul; that as much as anything was a case of the biter bit, and it helped England ride to a famous victory. “I am just so proud of the boys,” Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, said. “It was character, spirit and playing for the shirt. Once we got that lead we just clung in there.”

Line-ups:

England: M Brown; J Nowell, L Burrell, B Twelvetrees, J May; O Farrell, D Care; J Marler (M Vunipola, 64), D Hartley (T Youngs, 75), D Wilson (H Thomas, 70), J Launchbury, C Lawes, T Wood (D Attwood, 70), C Robshaw (capt), B Vunipola (B Morgan, 37).

Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble (F McFadden, 66), B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy (J McGrath, 72), R Best (S Cronin, 74), M Ross (M Moore, 62), D Toner, P O’Connell (capt), P O’Mahony (I Henderson, 70), C Henry (J Murphy, 74), J Heaslip.

Referee: C Joubert (South Africa)

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