Ireland wrecked England’s hopes of a Six Nations grand slam on Saturday, outclassing their opponents 24-8 in a one-sided encounter at Lansdowne Road.
Tries from wing Tommy Bowe, captain Brian O’Driscoll — setting a new all-time record for the tournament of 25 — and 14 points from fly-half Jonathan Sexton gave Ireland a deserved victory that was even more one-sided than the lop-sided final score suggested.
England, bidding to win their first grand slam since triumphing in Dublin in 2003, were second best to the Irish in almost every department, outmuscled in the forwards and outplayed in the backs.
Depending on the result of Wales’ match with France in Paris later on Saturday, England, may well finish the Six Nations as champions.
But the emphatic nature of England’s defeat will give manager Martin Johnson and his players a stinging reality check as they now turn their attention to this year’s World Cup in New Zealand.
“We’ll take this on the chin,” said Johnson, who captained England to Grand Slam glory here in 2003.
“They outplayed us but they are a savvy team. They do what they do very well. Our first-half was horrible. We did everything you shouldn’t do when you play away from home.
“We got it wrong today.”
England captain Nick Easter — standing in for the injured 2003 Grand Slam and World Cup winning centre Mike Tindall — was blunt in defeat.
“They came at us like a steam train and we just didn’t deliver on the day,” said the 32-year-old.
“If we go on to win the Championship [Wales need to beat France by a large margin later] it won’t mean much. But at least we’ve made strides forward this season.”
O’Driscoll was ecstatic to have rounded off a tournament where the team had attracted heavy criticism.
“We knew we had this type of performance in us,” said the 33-year-old.
“They couldn’t live with us. At half-time we said we wanted to put them to the sword but we didn’t manage that.
“As a team you are always going to be criticised but you don’t become a bad team overnight.”
Ireland, bitterly disappointed to lose in controversial circumstances against Wales last week and desperate to end a mixed campaign on a winning note, dominated almost from start to finish.
Man-of-the-match Sexton had opened the scoring for Ireland on seven minutes, calmly slotting a penalty after England’s defensive line were offside at a line-out.
Ireland extended their lead on 15 minutes when England wing Chris Ashton was adjudged to have high tackled Sexton, who duly slotted the three points.
Ireland’s relentless pressure looked to have earned them a deserved try after 20 minutes when elusive running by Bowe ended with O’Driscoll scoring in the corner.
But as the crowd and Ireland’s players celebrated, referee Bryce Lawrence ruled that the final pass had gone forward by the slimmest of margins, and instead the home side had to settle for Sexton’s third penalty to make it 9-0.
Yet when Toby Flood missed a straightforward penalty to reduce the deficit moments later, Ireland were swiftly back on the attack with a hack and chase upfield that ended with Bowe going over out wide for 14-0.
A rare English foray into Irish territory resulted in a Flood penalty on 32 minutes to make it 14-3 but in truth the visitors never looked like putting their opponents under pressure.
A bad half for England got worse five minutes before half-time, when flanker David Wallace, a superb, scavenging presence at the breakdown throughout, burst off a ruck and headed for the corner.
England’s cover got there but when scrum-half Ben Youngs threw the ball into the crowd, referee Lawrence produced a yellow card and the young Leicester scrum-half was in the sin-bin.
A further penalty from Sexton stretched Ireland’s lead still further, driving another nail into the coffin of England’s grand slam hopes.
England looked to have survived the sinbin unscathed in the early moments of the second half, when Danny Care came on to replace Youngs.
But within seconds of Care’s arrival, Ireland were back on the attack once more as England scrambled. Donncha O’Callaghan looked to have bungled the chance but O’Driscoll was on hand to mop up and scamper over in the corner.
Sexton converted from the touchline to make it 24-3 and Ireland were effectively home and dry.
England emptied their replacements bench and veteran hooker Steve Thompson raced over from 30 yards for an interception try but the result was never in doubt. – AFP