England stride to second as pack dominates Irish forwards
England 30 Ireland 9
Saturday 17 March 2012
England clinched second place in the RBS 6 Nations championship with a comprehensive victory over Ireland that was founded on a destructive scrummaging performance.
Owen Farrell kicked 20 points in another nerveless display but, on this occasion, it will not be England's new golden-boy fly-half who takes the plaudits.
It will be Alex Corbisiero, Dan Cole and the destructive England pack who obliterated the Irish scrummage and earned just reward with a second-half penalty try.
Ben Youngs then came off the bench to score England's second try from a quick tap penalty that had been earned by his forward pack.
Ireland captain Rory Best had described the Irish scrummage as an "attacking weapon" in the build-up to the game but it was a pop gun compared to England's Sherman tank.
England once wasted similar scrummaging superiority against Australia in the summer of 2010, but not today as some old scores were settled.
Twelve months ago, England were caught cold by Ireland in Dublin and saw their Grand Slam bid wrecked at the Aviva Stadium. Today they hit the Irish hard and just kept on hitting.
The one sour note for England was an allegation of biting made by Ireland against an unnamed player which could, if proven, have serious ramifications.
But in the wider context, England have now won four of their five matches and finish the championship as runners-up to Grand Slam champions Wales, a team they pushed to the brink at Twickenham.
Stuart Lancaster's new-look England have no respect for record or reputation.
They won at Murrayfield for the first time in eight years, they ended France's 10-match unbeaten in Paris and this victory was only England's second against Ireland in nine meetings.
Lancaster, the interim coach, is expected to be interviewed for the full-time job this week and he could not have done much more to stake his case.
That said, when Brian Ashton guided England to a 33-10 victory over Ireland in 2008 he lost his job to Martin Johnson and the RFU are thought to also be interviewing Nick Mallett.
England established their scrummaging dominance from the outset, earning a penalty from the first set piece which Farrell converted in the third minute.
Lee Dickson invited pressure on England as he sliced one box kick into touch and then had a second-half kick charged down, both inside England's 22.
It typified an error-strewn first half of spilled balls, knock-ons and turnovers which only served to encourage both fly-halves to take to the air.
Farrell had a tactical kick charged down but the ball rebounded for Brad Barritt who linked with Manu Tuilagi and Chris Ashton down the right before Mouritz Botha spilled the ball in midfield.
Ireland counter-attacked promisingly with hooker Rory Best floating a long pass to Keith Earls but Foden made the tackle and then executed a vital turnover.
Rob Kearney's 45-metre drop goal attempt had crashed back off the post before a Jonathan Sexton penalty brought the visitors level.
England edged ahead with two more penalties from Farrell, the first a reward from another dominant scrum performance.
In between time, Gordon D'Arcy saw an ill-judged drop goal charged down before Ireland lock Donncha O'Callaghan made the allegation of biting.
For all their scrum strength, England were struggling against Ireland's ferocity at the breakdown and twice they were counter-rucked, the second time allowing Sexton to land a penalty.
England were in complete control after the interval, though.
Foden ran back a poor kick and then fed Croft who galloped into the Ireland 22 but, just as he looked for the try-scoring pass to one of two men on his inside, the ball slipped clear.
It was agonising for Croft but the England scrum, led by Corbisiero, earned immediate redemption by shoving Ireland back and winning a penalty for Farrell to convert.
Sexton responded before Ireland's scrum-half Tomas O'Leary committed the grave error of carrying the ball back over his own line after sweeping up a Farrell grubber kick.
England's scrum had a golden attacking platform. They drove Ireland back and referee Nigel Owens blew for a penalty just before Tom Palmer touched the ball down.
Chris Robshaw opted for another scrum, England drove on, Ben Morgan peeled off the back and the Irish back row dived on top of him to concede a penalty try.
Keith Earls made one breakaway but otherwise Ireland spent the last quarter camped inside their own half, taking blow after blow from the England team.
And Youngs, who has struggled for form through the championship, applied the coup de grace for England with a try from a quick tap penalty that had been earned by his dominant forward pack.
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