Suddenly, the kings are dethroned and the Six Nations is back to what it used to be - a great tournament blessed by the unpredictable. Let Ireland take the full credit for restoring a sense of equality to the championship. England's inability to cope silenced the charioteers in the Twickenham crowd until they mounted a late challenge.
England still might have won in the final 10 minutes, but all they managed was to keep the thrill factor alive. They didn't deserve to win because Ireland dominated the rest of the proceedings in magnificent manner.
Ireland now move on to a Triple Crown chance against Scotland and England will contemplate one of those rarities - an inquest. Perhaps they will be better for the experience. It hurts to hit the ground from the height they have, but when you are up on the perch you are going to be knocked off sooner or later. The fact it is sooner may help concentrate their minds. In truth, they had not played well since winning the World Cup.
I said last Sunday that England had not gone up through the gears since returning from Australia. They had played the New Zealand Barbarians, Italy and Scotland and had hardly been pushed.
They needed a scare, I suggested. Well, they got one and couldn't find the gear stick. It was always going to be a problem for them to climb back to the levels they reached before the World Cup. The superb standards they set in gaining the Grand Slam last season, and on their summer tour, gave them the confidence they needed to win the World Cup even though they didn't play their best.
It is not uncommon for teams to suffer a backlash after a great achievement. And when you lose a leader like Martin Johnson the regrouping is much harder. Lawrence Dallaglio was a good choice as captain, but it was noticeable that in broken play he was struggling to get over the gain line. That applied to the entire pack. You always expect one of the England forwards to smash a way through, but players such as Ben Kay, Joe Worsley and Phil Vickery were not doing the business.
No one was carrying the ball, and it is difficult to know why. This will certainly be one of the subjects on Sir Clive Woodward's inquest agenda. He might also ask why Steve Thompson was allowed to stay on when he was so obviously having a wretched time in the embarrassing number of line-outs England lost.
Since England have got a specialist line-out coach, I cannot understand why he was not on the touchline giving advice. In the end, and much too late, they replaced Thompson with Mark Regan, and the line-outs improved .
Behind the scrum, England's back line now know what it is like to be in an inferior side. They have been spoiled by the amount of good ball they have been getting. Life is much harder when you don't get any.
Matt Dawson scored a try and Paul Grayson made one great chip and burst-through that should have brought Ben Cohen a try, but they were individual efforts. They and the rest of the backs must have felt strange at being so starved.
None of this criticism of England must detract from a great Irish performance. They recognised what needed to be done and came out with a gameplan that was tactically very astute. It was simple enough: Ronan O'Gara kicked some great stuff and put Iain Balshaw under great pressure. I'm not sure how many have realised how weak the England back three are at kicking. There is not a natural kicker among them.
That is why Ireland were happy to kick long down-field. They knew that if the return went into touch it wouldn't go far, and Ireland would probably nick the line-out. It gave the Irish a great psychological edge. There were several candidates for Man of the Match; O'Gara, Gordon D'Arcy, Paul O'Connell, Malcolm O'Kelly... and the back row were exceptional.
You didn't need to look far for heroes at Twickenham, and for once in a very long while none of them was English.
- More about:
- Lawrence Dallaglio
- Mark Tucker
- Phil Vickery
- Richmond, London