Six Nations 2013: England keep Grand Slam dream alive in Dublin
Six Nations 2013: Owen Farrell kicked four penalties to help England secure a 12-6 victory over Ireland at the Aviva Stadium
England withstood a second-half Irish onslaught to claim their first victory in Dublin in the Six Nations for a decade, eventually running out 12-6 winners in the tightest of contests.
Owen Farrell kicked four penalties to Ronan O’Gara’s two as England edged the battle of the two remaining Grand Slam contenders in freezing conditions.
Leading 6-0 at the interval, England wavered in the first 20 minutes of the second period and when James Haskell was sent to the sin bin at 6-6 the smart money was on Ireland to complete an impressive comeback.
But the visitors gathered themselves and played the rest of the game in the Ireland half to ensure they returned home with their RBS 6 Nations dream alive.
England started on the front foot, going through the phases and winning a third-minute penalty when Ireland failed to roll away from the tackle. Farrell made no mistake from distance, bisecting the posts from 40 metres to put England 3-0 up.
Ireland struggled to get into the game in the early stages with their handling frequently letting them down in the wet conditions, Jamie Heaslip fumbling a high ball from the restart to ease the pressure on the visitors.
And the hosts suffered a huge blow on ten minutes when in-form winger Simon Zebo pulled up injured, to be replaced by Keith Earls.
Ireland began to dominate possession, probing along the edge of the England 22 only for their attacks to break down as first Gordon D’Arcy and then Donnacha Ryan spilled the ball in contact.
Farrell eased the pressure on England when Heaslip was penalised for coming in from the side giving the fly-half the chance to knock over another long, straight penalty.
With a six-point cushion England began to play more rugby in Ireland’s half, and they were helped when Heaslip knocked on his second simple high ball of the afternoon.
Ireland’s cause wasn’t helped when they suffered another injury blow, fly-half Jonathan Sexton appearing to pull his hamstring as he hacked the ball on after 30 minutes, with O’Gara replacing him.
Farrell proved he was fallible when he failed with another long distance penalty attempt from the right on the stroke of half-time as England went in 6-0 ahead.
Ireland started the second period with much more intensity at the scrum winning consecutive penalties, the second of which O’Gara kicked home to reduce the deficit to 6-3 on 45 minutes.
That seemed to boost Irish confidence, with Sean O’Brien breaking two tackles as he embarked on a bullocking run out of his own 22.
England coach Stuart Lancaster introduced Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi for Joe Launchbury and Billy Twelvetrees to increase England’s intensity in the tackle and at the breakdown, while Dyaln Hartley took over from the misfiring Tom Youngs at hooker.
An uncharacteristic Brian O’Driscoll handling error in the Ireland 22 gave Tuilagi the chance to kick the ball through but he chose to try and pick it up, knocking on in the process and the chance was gone.
Haskell was then sent to the sin bin by referee Jerôme Garces for playing the ball on the ground and from around 35 metres O’Gara drew Ireland level with his second successful penalty – taking his personal tally against England past 100 points.
England did their best to slow down the play with Haskell on the sidelines, with Mako Vunipola replacing Joe Marler as the visitors played for territory and kept the ball tight.
But when the ball was spun wide Farrell sent a punt into the corner that forced Kearney into touch under pressure from Chris Ashton.
From the resulting lineout Ben Youngs chipped delicately behind the Ireland defence and the ball narrowly avoided the onrushing Tuilagi in the end zone.
But referee Garces pulled play back for an earlier offence by Mike McCarthy and Farrell’s penalty restored England’s lead to 9-6.
Almost straight away it was 12-6 as Lawes chased down Alex Goode’s huge Garryowen to tackle Kearney, with Mike Brown winning the penalty as the Leinster man held onto the ball in the tackle. Farrell made no mistake and with 16 minutes left England looked the likely winners.
O’Gara had one final chance with the boot after Hartley was penalised for entering from the side but he pushed it narrowly wide of the right hand post.
There was still time for Farrell to fail with another penalty opportunity after O’Gara spilled a high ball and was pinned by Ashton but but he too missed the right stick.
As the clock ran down England forced a series of re-set scrums deep in the Ireland 22 and despite a late breakout held out to secure a famous victory and stay on course for a first Grand Slam since 2003 – the last time they won in Dublin.