Sexton plots downfall of English pretenders

Ireland 24 England 8: Fly-half pulls strings as men of Ireland teach Johnson's boys a very harsh lesson
Click to follow
The Independent Online

No Grand Slam glory for England here, and although they captured their first Six Nations title for eight years they were obliged by the need to wait for Wales's result in France to traipse a mile or so through the dark Dublin suburbs before receiving the Championship trophy at the after-match function. This was a triumph laced with despair.

It will be seen as a natural signpost to a better future – but wrong decisions will always hurt, whateverthe age of those making them. The Irish took their lead from their try-scoring phenomenon, Brian O'Driscoll, and showed Ben Youngs and others in a youngish England team the errors of their ways in a stunningly one-sided match.

"There was a huge frustration we did not finish it off," said Youngs's half-back pal, Toby Flood. The stand-in captain, Nick Easter, was asked if the title made up for the defeat. "No, not at all," said the No 8, though the sight of silverware returning to Twickenham will temper that feeling in time.

Easter, at 32, pushed up the average age of the England side to 26. Ireland had oodles of medals – a Grand Slam in 2009 and three Heineken Cups between their Leinster and Munster men, tours as Lions captain for O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell – and were always likely to score heavily on nous. They scored two tries to one, too.

The benched fly-half Ronan O'Gara – a veteran like O'Driscoll of 11 championships, not the one and a bit of Youngs – had commented how his side had flopped exhausted over the Six Nations winning line two years ago. Perhaps England felt the same fatigue. They came out stern-faced and without their first choice captain, Lewis Moody, and his stand-in, Mike Tindall. In Tindall's place the gigantic Matt Banahan had an early trundle but it was one of only two visits to the Irish 22 in the opening half-hour.

The rest before half-time was English errors and Irish quality. Youngs - the 21-year-old face of England's new hope in the past 12 months - had a horror. A break with Ireland 6-0 up, through two Jonny Sexton penalties, was cut down by the flanker David Wallace. Piqued, no doubt, Youngs gave a sly jog to Eoin Reddan's arm as the Irishman fed the next scrum; the penalty was a good spot by the referee, Bryce Lawrence, and Ireland created what should have beenO'Driscoll's record 25th championship try. Instead there was a forward pass and Sexton kicked a penalty for 9-0.

Next, a dodgy moment for Flood: a presentable penalty missed. On 27 minutes, Sexton's quick tap pulled England apart for a try. England had numbers back but Bowe cantered past Ben Foden and Tom Wood. Sexton, left out for the defeat in Wales, was vindicated.

Flood kicked a goal from 40 metresbut the respite was brief. Easter supported Foden but was stripped by Wallace, who ran down the right. With the ball in touch, and right in front of two officials, Youngs flung it into the crowd. A yellow card was inevitable and England's similar afflictions in this city a couple of years ago were petulantly revisited.

Sexton kicked the penalty for 17-3 at the break, Youngs never returned – his place taken by Danny Care – and when O'Driscoll tidied up Donncha O'Callaghan's scrappy pass to arrow over for that record try and punish a lost England line-out, Sexton converted for a lead of 21.

On came England's two remaining veterans of 2003: Jonny Wilkinson for Flood, Steve Thompson for Dylan Hartley. The new hooker scored quickly, wandering through an Irish line-out to intercept a pass by Reddan and gallop 30 metres. But Wilkinson missed the conversion. Dan Cole was withdrawn and it felt as if Martin Johnson was saving the most callow any further punishment, though Alex Corbisiero played on in a scrum that held its own.

England's attack was neutered by Ireland keeping the ball off the deck after the tackle. On came O'Gara to kick and turn England, for whom Chris Ashton almost lost his head with frustration. Johnson's face on the big screens was jeered.

Johnson had not forgotten that the Irish had waited 51 years for their second Slam, while England remained stuck on 12. "Do you have to get your scars and bruises in before you win something?" Johnson said. "You hope not, but probably you do. Ireland certainly had theirs before winning a Grand Slam, and I certainly had mine."

In terms of this year's Championship, England could borrow from the old song: four out of five ain't bad.



Keith Earls 7/10

Ever since the first few games of the 2009 Lions tour, it has seemed that this chap has been about to do something very good. Nearly did it straight away, leaving Banahan for dead, and generally looked dangerous, as he generally does.Nice long break late on.

Tommy Bowe 7/10

Took his try as well as you'd expect him to, thanks to sharp thinking from Sexton, and might have been relieved after his forward pass butchered what should have been a try for O'Driscoll. Other than that, excellent.

Brian O'Driscoll 7/10

Thought he had a record 25th championship try in the first half, only to see it pulled back for the forward pass (see above) that had put him over the line. Bagged the record in the second, though, with a pick-up of a loose ball and a scurry and a dive into the corner. As excellent as always.

Gordon D'Arcy 7/10

Will face more subtle centre pairings than Banahan and Hape before his career's done, but you can only play what's in front of you and he helped to play them off the park.

Andrew Trimble 7/10

Put clear away at the end of the first half, he fluffed a chip and chase with embarrassing ease. It didn't look like it would matter then, at 17-3, and it didn't.

Jonathan Sexton 8/10

Sexton or O'Gara, O'Gara or Sexton? After this one the answer is... Sexton, for now. His first kick to touch was splendid, his goal-kicking was fine and he took the quick penalty and set up Bowe's opening try. Off late on.

Eoin Reddan 7/10

Took a Welsh clearance kick in the chops last week and was clearly knocked silly, but professionals don't get the 'three weeks out and no argument' treatment, do they? That said, he looked perfectly sharp from the start of this one. Maybe he could blame the concussion that wasn't for the pass picked off by Thompson.

Cian Healy 7/10

A key man in the way of scrummaging things, what with being in the way of a particularly frightening scrummaging thing, in Cole. First scrum was fun; the English were on top after but perhaps the first one set the tone for the whole match. In which case, job done.

Rory Best 7/10

First scrum went like a dream, first line-out would have woken him up with a bit of a start. Line-outs were also OK, in the way that they can be when everything else is going so well.

Mike Ross 7/10

The tighthead has Premiership experience, after a long time with Harlequins, so he should have known what was coming in the set piece. At the first scrum, Ireland marched forward and won a penalty. At the subsequent scrums, he did just a good enough job.

Donncha O'Callaghan 7/10

Won the first turnover when England started strongly, holding man and ball off the ground and setting a pattern his team-mates followed ferociously. Scrums and line-outs weren't too comfortable, but it didn't matter.

Paul O'Connell 7/10

Cut his numbers in the line-out relatively early, which you might take as a compliment to Deacon, Palmer and Wood. Then gave away the penalty for England's first points. After that he settled into his usual rampaging game, if it isn't a nonsense to put it like that.

Sean O'Brien 7/10

Ireland's 'guns player' - see the entry for Haskell, right down to the propensity for giving away penalties. However, to stick with the subject, it seemed here that he had the slightly bigger guns – he held up Haskell for one turnover that had the crowd cheering like mad.

David Wallace 8/10

Has been doing his ball-snatching, drive-stopping, scavenging openside's thing forever, and he carried on doing it here to absolutely splendid effect.

Jamie Heaslip 8/10

The No8 is on his way to being a genuinely great player – his offload to Bowe to set up what should have been the first try was a hint of how good he can be and he set up the first try with a bullocking burst. Later, ripped the ball to break up an English attack with ease.


Tom Court On to face Corbisiero. Will have more fun 20-minute spells.

Ronan O'Gara On for Sexton.

Denis Leamy On for Wallace.

Sean Cronin On for Best.

Leo Cullen On for O'Connell.

Peter Stringer On for Reddan.

Paddy Wallace On for D'Arcy.

Martin Pengelly


Ben Foden 5/10

The shine on the pre-match red carpet warned him about the perils of a wet day in Dublin, though he would have been expecting a dose of high balls and flankers pursuing him like the Furies anyway. Moved to scrum-half when Youngs was in the bin.

Chris Ashton 5/10

Went high on Sexton to concede the penalty for 6-0 and looked suitably wounded at the suggestion it could have been him. Gave England a little bit of zip on an evening when they were caught with their flies open.

Matt Banahan 4/10

Someone wrote something about life imitating body art in this fellow's case – in which case he would have come out snorting fire like a dragon and loudly declaring his love for his mum. His one-handed offload, a kind of unsubtle subtle touch, never looked like working and in the second half he ran, slowly, straight into touch.

Shontayne Hape 4/10

Looked one-paced and short of ideas, though so did everyone in the one-sided first half. In the one-sided second half... he looked exactly the same.

Mark Cueto 5/10

Won his 50th cap since 2004 – which has not been the most distinguished time in English rugby history. Doesn't deserve to be remembered like one of those myriad dark-haired chaps called Nick who played post-Beaumont and pre-Carling in the 80s but he might be, particularly after yet another whole-hearted effort in a losing cause.

Toby Flood 4/10

Distribution didn't click at all, with balls bouncing before reaching their man, and shanked his first penalty chance horribly. Kicked his next one, which was a test of character, of a kind.

Ben Youngs 3/10

Pass wasn't quick, tried offloads when they weren't on and gave away utterly unnecessary penalties – the one that prompted a yellow card wasn't his first. Warmed up to come back on but was told to stay on the naughty step.

Alex Corbisiero 6/10

First scrum was embarrassing but the first on England's put-in produced a penalty and the next sent Ireland back in return. Helped to earn a general sort of scrummaging superiority after that. It counted for little given what was going on elsewhere, but he played noticeably well all round the field.

Dylan Hartley 5/10

Hammered into one Irish ruck, at the end of the first half, which was good to see given the rather anaemic stuff that had gone on and gone in before. Thing was, he left a bloody great barn door for Trimble to scoot straight through.

Dan Cole 6/10

Twisted Healy about to win the first scrummaging penalty, in a manner which should have made him the one to be penalised. Scrummaging, the impossibility of refereeing, in one sentence. Off later.

Louis Deacon 5/10

Solid as you like, of course. Whether a lock with a little more O'Callaghan-esque oomph would have made a difference would be debatable. Off for Croft, a flanker, later.

Tom Palmer 5/10

Line-outs started solidly, which has been the case all tournament, but he went off, injured, after 23 minutes.

Tom Wood 5/10

Looks a bit like a sort of stretched David Wallace, although he's some way to go to play like Ireland's most capped back-row forward did here. In the way of such disappointing defeats, he will at least have learned from this one.

James Haskell 6/10

Where cricket teams have 'gun players', Le Hasque is England's 'guns player'... to use slang that refers to one's biceps as 'guns'. Such muscularity has sometimes seemed to come at the expense of things like subtlety, skill and not giving away too many penalties, but in this Six Nations he has been a revelation. Carried on the good work here, in a cause that looked lost early on.

Nick Easter 6/10

Captain for the day. Would you lay the blame for an indisciplined team display at the captain's door, entirely? Probably not. Did a few good things among the bad things Ireland did to his side.


Simon Shaw On for Palmer; at one point he seemed to be clearing out the Irish pack on his own.

Danny Care On for Youngs.

Steve Thompson On for Hartley to score an unlikely try, intercepting Reddan.

Paul Doran-Jones On for Cole.

Jonny Wilkinson On for Flood.

Tom Croft On for Deacon, at lock.

David Strettle On for Cueto.

Martin Pengelly