Johnson bemoans the failure to land punch after hopes slammed

Ireland 24 England 8

Just for once, England followed the protocol by turning up to collect the Six Nations trophy when the tournament organisers expected them to turn up instead of disappearing into the Celtic twilight as fast as their tired legs could carry them and leaving a Very Important Royal Personage all dressed up with no one to reign over, as they had under similar circumstances in Edinburgh 11 years previously. What they failed to follow was the script they had written for themselves. Not for the first time in recent years – nor the second, nor even the third – they came to Dublin full of anticipation and left with plenty of nothing.

It is no small thing to win a Six Nations title – hell, this is the first time England have been able to call themselves champions of Europe since 2003, the year they ended as champions of everywhere – but there has long been a feeling around the championship that to win it properly, you have to win all five games. Four victories followed by a complete and utter spanking is not the stuff of which dreams are made, and Martin Johnson's players acknowledged as much on Saturday night. Indeed, there would have been a greater air of triumph about them had they secured a podium finish in a pub quiz down at Ye Olde Rat and Drainpipe.

How hard it is to believe that so many people spent so much of this tournament waxing lyrical about red-rose chances of winning the World Cup in New Zealand later this year. The draw may favour them, but if they play like this in All Black country, they will be back in Blighty by the time the knockout stage begins. The only thing we know for sure about their next competitive contest, a pool game with Argentina in September, is that it will not be played in the devastated city of Christchurch. Everything else is up in the air.

Once again, Johnson selected a picket-line midfield designed purely to stop those on the other side of the argument going about their work – Matt Banahan, the new man at No 13, is not obviously the red-rose answer to Brian O'Driscoll, as Brian O'Driscoll reminded him in person – and if England had found ways of manufacturing results on this basis before arriving here, the decision of every other part of the team to come out in sympathy with the centres left productivity at a standstill. The visitors created bugger-all, all night long. If they scored a try, it was only because both Eoin Reddan, the Irish scrum-half, and Bryce Lawrence, the referee, were in ultra-generous mood: the first in passing the ball straight to Steve Thompson from a line-out, the second in deciding that the unusually substantial hooker was the rugby equivalent of Usain Bolt, rather than plain offside.

Alarmingly from England's perspective, Ireland could have won by 30 points and still felt short-changed. The wondrous O'Driscoll would not have had to wait until the second half to break the championship's try-scoring record, set by the Scotland wing Ian Smith before the Second World War, had Lawrence not considered Tommy Bowe's pass to have been forward – a deeply questionable call, given that it looked a lot less forward than the pass Mark Cueto had thrown to Tom Croft for the match-winning touchdown in the Calcutta Cup game six days previously. By the same yardstick, the flanker David Wallace might easily have bagged a brace, one in either corner, but for some fine tackling of the last-ditch variety.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of England's humiliation was their failure to "fire a shot", as Johnson put it. Indeed, the manager went further. "When you're in a fight," the old Leicester hardhead muttered with a sorry shake of the head, "you want to land a few, don't you? We feel as though we didn't land any." He will take that very deeply indeed. England have suffered their share of "horrible first halves" – Johnson's description – in recent months: against the Wallabies in Perth last summer; against the All Blacks at Twickenham in November. Yet on those occasions, they hung in there and made a game of it. Here, they hung themselves out to dry by making daft mistakes early on and remained hanging for the duration.

"I can't explain it," said Mark Cueto, the most experienced of the England backs who started the contest. "We've been good at finding ways of getting back into games we haven't started well, but this time we really struggled. We didn't panic, exactly – we weren't stood out there thinking 'the wheels have come off and there's nothing we can do'. Even when we were 17-3 down, there was some belief. But Ireland made life so difficult for us at the rucks, we couldn't get our hands on the ball. We just didn't get into it, sadly."

It was not as though Johnson and his coaches failed to foresee those problems at the tackle area. In the tight game with the Scots last time out, the England forwards were subjected to all manner of trouble and strife by John Barclay, the nose-to-the-ground back-row bandit from Glasgow. Here, they faced the opposite problem: when they tried to go to ground on their own terms, Donncha O'Callaghan refused to let them. Aided and abetted by the loose-head prop Cian Healy and the hooker Rory Best, the Munster lock mauled so strongly that the English ball-carriers spent much of the game engaged in an arm-wrestle they had no idea how to win.

As a consequence, all the linkages at the heart of England's much-improved attacking game – the Ben Youngs-Toby Flood axis at half-back, the Flood-Cueto connection in midfield, the Ben Foden-Chris Ashton double act out wide – were broken. And once that happened, no one had the faintest clue how to repair them. Least of all Youngs, who later confessed to having "played like an idiot". The Leicester scrum-half's active interest in the game ended after 38 minutes, when he lobbed the ball into the crowd to prevent Ireland taking a quick throw and was despatched to the sin bin for his trouble, never to reappear. If he is honest with himself, he will view this incident as a blessing in disguise. Had he stayed on the field, his reputation as one of rugby's brighter sparks might have been extinguished.

He was not alone in flirting so dangerously with personal embarrassment: in fact, he was in a healthy majority, best estimated in double figures. Man for man, England lost out everywhere, not least down the spine. Best played a hard, vigorous hand as Ireland's hooker while the No 8 Jamie Heaslip operated at 2009 Lions pitch, his energy level way beyond anything mustered by his direct opponent, Nick Easter. Reddan outplayed both Youngs and Danny Care; Jonathan Sexton was a paragon of poise at outside-half; Keith Earls looked positively lethal at full-back. Individually, these people were in the ascendant. Collectively, they were in a different league.

"We have to take our medicine, stop the bleeding and wear the scar," Johnson said. When someone asked him if he would stew on this for the whole of the next six months, he replied: "I don't know about six months." Six years would be a better bet.



Scorers: Ireland: Tries Bowe, O'Driscoll; Conversion: Sexton; Penalties Sexton 4. England: Try Thompson; Penalty Flood.

Ireland: K Earls (Munster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); J Sexton (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S O'Brien (Leinster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster). Replacements: T Court (Ulster) for Ross 60; R O'Gara (Munster) for Sexton 72; D Leamy (Munster) for Wallace 74; P Wallace (Ulster) for D'Arcy 83; P Stringer (Munster) for Reddan 83; S Cronin (Connacht) for Best 83; L Cullen (Leinster) for O'Connell 83.

England: B Foden (Northampton); C Ashton (Northampton), M Banahan (Bath), S Hape (Bath), M Cueto (Sale); T Flood (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester); A Corbisiero (London Irish), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), L Deacon (Leicester), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Wood (Northampton), J Haskell (Stade Francais), N Easter (Harlequins, capt). Replacements: S Shaw (Wasps) for Palmer 27; D Care (Harlequins) for Youngs 45; J Wilkinson (Toulon) for Flood 51; S Thompson (Leeds) for Hartley 51; P Doran-Jones (Northampton) for Cole 51; T Croft (Leicester) for Deacon 55; D Strettle (Saracens) for Cueto 68.

Referee B Lawrence (New Zealand).

Man for man marking: How England rated

Ben Foden (full-back) The bad errors were elsewhere in the team, hence the relatively high mark 6

Chris Ashton (wing) The wing was fiery, feisty, full of aggression. He put England's pack to shame 7

Matt Banahan (centre) Overmatched against O'Driscoll. Size isn't everything, even in this game 4

Shontayne Hape (centre) Yes, he tackles brilliantly. Apart from that part of his game, what is he actually for? 4

Mark Cueto (wing) Uncharacteristic mistakes let him down, but flickered with footballing intelligence 6

Toby Flood (stand-off) The comparison with Jonathan Sexton did him no favours 4

Ben Youngs (scrum-half) Oh dear. The scrum-half's incarceration in the sin bin was a blessing. Was replaced 3

Alex Corbisiero (prop) Struggled against Mike Ross initially, but enhanced his reputation by finishing strongly 7

Dylan Hartley (hooker) Off his normal high level, but at least there was some energy about England's hooker 6

Dan Cole (prop) The England prop expected to "do a job" on Cian Healy. He most certainly didn't 5

Louis Deacon (lock) The England lock rarely loses an arm-wrestle, but he sure lost this one 5

Tom Palmer (lock) Early finish with injury, he took England's line-out with him 5

Tom Wood (flanker) Outstanding. If the whole pack had performed like the newcomer, who knows? 8

James Haskell (flanker) When all is said and done, Haskell just isn't an open-side flanker 5

Nick Easter (No 8) England's captain for the day was a very distant second to Jamie Heaslip 5

England's replacements

Simon Shaw (for Palmer) 5

Danny Care (for Youngs) 5

Jonny Wilkinson (for Flood) 5

Steve Thompson (for Hartley) 6

Paul Doran-Jones (for Cole) 5

Tom Croft (for Deacon) 6

David Strettle (for Cueto) 6



Ireland - Points - England

2 Tries 1
1/2 Conversions 0/1
4/4 Penalties 1/2
0/0 Drop goals 0/0

Phases of play

10 Scrums won 3
0 Scrums lost 1
11 Line-outs won 9
2 Line-outs lost 2
6 Pens conceded 9
4 Mauls won 4
8 Ruck and drive 13
48 Ruck and pass 61

Ireland Team - Stats - England

130 Passes made 147
5 Line breaks 2
27 Possession kicked 15
9 Kicks to touch 7
88 Tackles made 74
4 Tackles missed 8
10 Offloads in tackle 7
7 Total errors made 17

Balls won
60 In open play 78
20 In opponents' 22 9
30 At set-pieces 18
4 Turnovers won 2

The match statistics

* Results Wales 19 England 26, Italy 11 Ireland 13, France 34 Scotland 21; England 59 Italy 13, Scotland 6 Wales 24, Ireland 22 France 25; England 17 France 9, Italy 16 Wales 24, Scotland 18 Ireland 21; Italy 22 France 21, Wales 19 Ireland 13, England 22 Scotland 16; Scotland 21 Italy 8, Ireland 24 England 8, France 28 Wales 9.

News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness