Six Nations 2013: Lessons as England end Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes
Six Nations 2013: James Thompson looks at the lessons learned as England edge Ireland at the Aviva Stadium
England register first victory in Ireland since 2003
It may not have been pretty or a match to remember, but England finally ended their Irish hoodoo with a mature 12-6 victory. Coming off of their resounding wins against both New Zealand and Scotland at Twickenham, Ireland away was always considered a true test of Stuart Lancaster’s first year in charge as England boss. He must have been delighted that the mental scars of two years ago, when Ireland blitzed England in the first twenty minutes to deny them a Grand Slam, were clearly healed as England played the conditions to aplomb. With Owen Farrell showing Red Rose fans that there is life after Jonny Wilkinson, England know that any of their opponents infringements are likely to be punished on the score board. Despite the vociferous Irish crowd doing their best to put him off on any kick, Farrell was ice cool and successfully kicked four out of five attempts as his boot decided the game. Lancaster appeared to get his key selections right as Brad Barritt ensured the English defence was impenetrable and the visitors bossed the opening exchanges. With the bench packed with experience, England were able to introduce the likes of Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes who helped close the game out and keep England on track for a Grand Slam.
England’s prospective Lions roar
In any match between these two sides, the outcome always depends on individual key battles. However, in a Lions year, these battles are magnified as players fight for the illustrious jersey. For many, Ireland’s Jonny Sexton is in pole position for the fly-half shirt with England’s Farrell the probable understudy. Unfortunately, Sexton appeared to succumb to a hamstring injury and limped off midway through the first half, robbing spectators of the kicking duel between the two. Despite the introduction of the veteran Ronan O’Gara, Farrell appeared unfazed and delivered a performance beyond his years. If England do secure a Grand Slam then Farrell is likely to have been a huge part of that and would do his Lions hopes the world of good. Similarly, the battle between captains Chris Robshaw and Jamie Heaslip could also lead to greater repercussions. It is likely that they will play together in the Lions back row but both men must harbour, privately if not publicly, ambitions of leading the tour. Robshaw was once again inspirational as he put in a man-of-the-match performance, and his lead by example mantra, can only be considered a good thing. In contrast, Heaslip cut a frustrated figure as Ireland struggled to get into the game and he made a few handling errors. He will be hoping for better fortune in the coming weeks.
Irish misery compounded
After their victory over Wales last week, Ireland would have fancied their chances against England and keeping their Grand Slam hopes alive. However, England never let them settle and they struggled to impose themselves on the game, despite enjoying the majority of possession. Their cause was not helped as key players Sexton and Simon Zebo were injured in the first half – they were robbed of two key attacking outlets. With the weather contributing to basic handling errors and Ireland consistently on the wrong side of the referee, they were never able to get any fluidity to their game. To further darken the Irish mood, it is expected that influential prop Cian Healy will be cited following his stamp in the first half. Although missed by the officials, English players reacted to the Leinster man’s actions and he will surely be hauled in front of a disciplinary commission in the coming week. Immediately after the game, it wasn’t clear how badly Zebo and Sexton’s injuries are but Ireland will be hoping they can call on both when they visit Scotland in a fortnight’s time.
Weather lessens spectacle
Following the spectacular start to the Six Nations last week, many expected similar fireworks this weekend. However all three games were badly affected by the atrocious weather as any chance of fluid, running rugby had to make way to a more pragmatic approach. At the Aviva Stadium, the weather played a defining part, especially in the scrum. It is always a confusing collision for the spectator as it is refereed so inconsistently but as the ground was so wet, it cut up and several resets were required. Both sides fielded strong packs, looking to create a solid platform in order to provide quick ball for their back-lines but this never looked likely as the rain worsened throughout the game. This weekend’s action never lived up to the heights of last weekend and we must hope for better weather in two weeks when the Six Nations resumes.