Pilgrims from Emerald Isle left green with envy

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The Independent Online

So much for the Grand Slam, then. The emerald Grand Slam. For England, there is still the chance – or, rather, after yesterday's demolition job, the near-certainty – of ending the seven year Grand Slam glitch.

For Ireland, it is 54 years of hurt now, and still counting. From the moment Jonny Wilkinson made the first try-scoring incision through the Irish back line, the Guinness-and-O'Driscoll-fuelled hopes of a first championship clean sweep since the sepia days of 1948, the year of Prince Charles' birth and Fanny Blankers Koen's famed Olympian feats, were submerged by a tidal wave of points at Twickenham yesterday.

There was no stopping Jason and the white-shirted juggernauts this time. Four months ago in Dublin it was the English who had to swallow hard and digest the humblest of pies, Messrs Johnson and Dawson receiving the Six Nations Trophy in the spirit of the 800m silver medal Sebastian Coe picked up behind Steve Ovett at the Moscow Olympics ("He looked like he had just been handed a turd," Clive James observed in his Observer television column). Yesterday it was the turn of the Irish.

Their coach of three months happens to be known as "the dagger" and Eddie O'Sullivan bore the ashen-faced look of someone who had taken a blow to the heart as he picked through the bones of a broken dream, and a broken performance. "It was an outstanding performance by England," he said. "In the first-half they dominated possession and field position and got their momentum going. We knew if that happened we were going to be in trouble. The damage was done in the 20 minutes before half-time. But from the very start we were on the back foot. It was one-way traffic."

Indeed it was, England zooming through the emerald light to reach the top of the world rankings. "It would be hard to disagree with that after today," O'Sullivan said, when asked whether England were worthy of their No 1 status.

His chief concern, however, as he left Twickenham was the position of his own side. After defeating England in Dublin and walloping Wales there too, Ireland now have to pick themselves up off the floor. As their stand-in captain, Mick Galwey, remarked: "The true test of a side is when they lose, how they regroup, and that's what we've got to do now."

The trouble for Ireland yesterday was their their pack could not so much regroup as spread across the field fast enough when their counterparts took to the wings. They had notably ageing legs in those which carried Galwey and Peter Clohessy, although the two 35-year-olds were not alone in being given the runaround by Steve Thompson and Co. It did not help Ireland that they had wounded legs too, Geordan Murphy departing with knee ligament damage after five minutes and his replacement, Rob Henderson, suffering a groin injury that necessitated his own replacement at half-time.

For all the Celtic hopes pinned on the creative shoulders of Brian "Waltzing" O'Driscoll and "George Best" Murphy, Ireland's chances of upsetting the odds were always going to hinge on the bracket of their defence. "It's my job to come up with a plan," Mike Ford, their English defensive coach, said, with regard to the task of keeping out his fellow countrymen. After 40 minutes, with four tries and 31 points already on the board against Ireland, Ford's task was to keep the score down. His Plan B might as well have been of the cunning Baldrick variety.

The introduction of Ronan O'Gara, for the stricken Henderson, and the shuffle that pushed David Humphreys out to various points in the back division, did yield the one score. It was, however, a try of minuscule consolation, much like the limitation of the damage to five points short of the half-century mark.

For O'Sullivan, there was never going to be a repeat of the Irish victory he masterminded against Clive Woodward's England Under-21 team five years ago. In the aftermath, though, at least one Dubliner was celebrating. For Kyran Bracken, born in Ireland's fair city, the Grand Slam dream was still very much alive-alive-oh.

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