The Hands report: Jonathan Sexton falls short for once
Sunday 23 February 2014
So what is experience worth when the law of unintended consequences comes into play? The law is something learned early, that what appears no more than an oversight may have an outcome that determines the match – and here, led Ireland to forfeit a Triple Crown.
Jonny Sexton was the Lions fly-half last summer, the playmaker of the 2013 Six Nations and, arguably, this one, even if his first season of club rugby in France is testing his patience. One of the simplest duties a No 10 has to perform is the kick-off and restarts: a drop-kick under no pressure from the opposition.
On 56 minutes, after Owen Farrell had kicked England's second penalty, Sexton could not manage it. His kick fell short of the England 10-metre line, giving them the choice of a scrum back on halfway or a line-out. Given that England's scrum was far from dominant, a line-out might have seemed the better choice, and when Ben Morgan ballooned a pass from No 8, Jack Nowell had to retrieve the bouncing ball with Irishmen bearing down.
But England regrouped on the young wing and created the position from which Mike Brown erupted over halfway and fed Danny Care for England's try. Regrouping is what this England team do best; because they are a young team, they make mistakes, but such is their fitness and enthusiasm that they force even the most experienced of teams into error.
This is what happened to Ireland, a team who may have started this Championship well on home turf but apparently lacked the confidence to play at Twickenham, a ground where they had won three games to England's two in the past decade. Proven internationals such as Gordon D'Arcy and Jamie Heaslip seemed unwilling to risk the offload, aiming instead to overpower defenders with their physicality.
It is unusual for England teams to be out-muscled and the present generation has added ball-handling to impressive physiques.
Black day for black boots
Fashion note. Whatever happened to the old black rugby boot? Half of Ireland's team wore black, albeit with a day-glo stripe here and there, but no more than two of England's starting XV were similarly attired.
White is the new black, it would seem; seven England players wore white and four more were in sky blue. The other two sported orange.
Commercial considerations are everything these days, but spectators of a certain age could be forgiven for harking back to the days when boot money was tucked neatly into black footwear.
Joe Launchbury really comes of age
Joe Launchbury may have been one of the England forwards between whom Rob Kearney burst to score Ireland's try, but it was a fabulous match for the Wasps lock. Ever since he emerged in the 2012 autumn series, Launchbury's athleticism and rugby nous have been obvious, but never more than here. Half the time he plays like a loose forward; now he was required to play there when Dave Attwood came on to replace Tom Wood. The make-up of the England bench precluded an out-and-out flanker, but Launchbury's engine more than compensated; he cheerfully packed down on the blindside of the next scrum, and any full-time flanker would have been proud of the covering tackle which pulled down David Kearney in full flight.
Head to head - David Wilson v Cian Healy: Wilson holds firm on England comeback
This was the area where Ireland hoped to profit substantially after the withdrawal during the week of England's first-choice tighthead prop, Dan Cole. His replacement, David Wilson, went into the match short of match practice and, on England's first scrum, Cian Healy went after him.
It could have been one of those psychological moments but for the fact that it occurred in only the second minute of the game. Wilson retreated as Healy pressed, and what had been a turnover scrum for England became a penalty for Ireland; the important factor was that the visitors could make nothing of it.
Wilson, recovered from a torn calf muscle, played 47 minutes of Bath's Aviva Premiership game at Exeter a week earlier, and when he left the field he looked appropriately weary. But he showed the same busy attitude about the field as Cole and, indeed, Healy himself, who is one of Ireland's many ball-carriers and tacklers.
England's second scrum was not much better, in that Ireland were awarded a free-kick for a technical offence. But when Ireland fed the scrum, their shove was held. The green shirts may have held the upper hand in an area of traditional England strength, but not to any marked degree until the second half, when Wilson was penalised for collapsing a scrum.
But holding the line was vital; both Wilson and Healy left with 10 minutes to go, Healy the happier of the two then but Wilson more content in the long run.
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