At the end of the Six Nations' longest day there would be no great escape for Andy Robinson. No escape from his critics. As the England coach sat and stoically digested this defeat from up in the stand, he could rightly believe that this was a significant improvement from the débâcle against France.
England might even have triumphed after a vastly-improved second half and ultimately perished only because of an Ireland try 82 seconds from time. Yet, with the World Cup uppermost in his mind, he will also recognise that England are many moons away from being capable of retaining their crown.
Robinson's ringing of the changes following the chastening 31-6 defeat at the Stade de France has been more of cathedral proportions than that of a village church. Many will contend that it is an indictment of his stewardship that one player who might have influenced matters more than any who appeared here, Newcastle's 19-year-old Mathew Tait, was several thousand miles away at the Commonwealth Games, claiming a worthy, but ultimately irrelevant silver medal.
How England would have thrived on his pace and invention, with their threequarter line standing condemned for too much of this season for their dearth of creativity, but Tait has been in purdah ever since that humiliating debut in Wales, when Gavin Henson turned his world upside down, both physically and psychologically. Should Robinson have maintained faith in him? Almost certainly.
But such issues are for the future, and you suspect Tait will soon return. In the event, England's midfield had a fresh complexion, albeit that Stuart Abbott, who had forced his way back into England contention after two years at the expense of Mike Tindall, could claim experience at the highest level, as a member of Sir Clive Woodward's World Cup squad. One thing was certain. England's new central partnership of Abbott and Jamie Noon, would be presented with a daunting examination by Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.
"A huge job" was the pre-match opinion of the Wasps centre, who played his last Test 21 months ago and has since had to recover from a broken leg. He promised to play his "natural game and try to give the ball a bit of an airing". Certainly, he gave Ireland something different to think about, though in a first half in which the team struggled for fluidity, the visitors' vigorous defending rarely allowed Abbott much opportunity.
It all began so auspiciously for England who had responded to the lashing of the critics' whip by emerging with fire and purpose. Assisted by a fierce wind, they demonstrated a passion which had been too frequently absent against Les Bleus.
Noon's try after 75 seconds, England's first for over three hours play, was swift reward for that endeavour, and, with the replacement Lawrence Dallaglio leading the applause on the touchline, it could have been a defining moment and have provided the platform for the herculean effort that was going to be required to deny Ireland their Triple Crown aspirations.
Yet, within eight minutes Ireland had replied after a grotesque misjudgement by Ben Cohen. Brian O'Driscoll's daisy-cutter down the right flank somehow eluded Cohen, and though the ball appeared to find touch, winger Shane Horgan pounced to score.
For a time, that equalising score punctured England's new-found exuberance. It was O'Driscoll and Co whose collective heart was pumping the stronger. One inspired little jink by O'Driscoll instigated a sustained assault on the home forces, eventually leading to a a Ronan O'Gara penalty. Ireland's half-time lead was fully merited.
The first period had not been a distinguished one for the Leicester pairing of fly-half Andy Goode, making his first start, and scrum-half Harry Ellis. Goode's wayward goal-kicking cost England crucial points, while Ellis's passing was, at times, ponderous. Yet, after the interval, the England backline were reinvigorated, and Goode rediscovered his sense of direction.
The fly-half, England's second reserve, in the absence of injured Jonny Wilkinson and Charlie Hodgson, also contributed to Steve Borthwick's, try which briefly brought a smile to the faithful. Ireland, though second best for much of the second half, were not in any kind of mood to concede anything to their hosts and replied with a contentious try from Denis Leamy, only for Goode's fifth successful kick from eight attempts, one of the trickiest, from out on the left, to give Robinson cause for applause.
There was another kick remaining. A kick in the teeth for the England coach as Shane Horgan scored his second try and claimed the Triple Crown for his country. Robinson's future, you suspect, is far from secure.Reuse content