Cipriani guides England to victory
March 15, 2008
Danny Cipriani was on song to guide England to victory
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Danny Cipriani announced a new era and quite possibly saved head coach Brian Ashton's job by inspiring England to a deserved RBS 6 Nations victory at Twickenham. Cipriani, dropped last week for his late-night visit to a Mayfair club, pulled on the number 10 shirt of Jonny Wilkinson and followed in the footsteps of the fly-half legend.
Seven goals from seven attempts, a haul of 18 points, was the sort of perfection for which Wilkinson was renowned. Ireland made an explosive start with Rob Kearney crossing with just four minutes on the clock but after Ronan O'Gara's kicking had stretched the lead further, England took control. A perfectly-executed chip and chase by O'Gara opened England's defence in the first minute but his good work was undone when he was spotted holding the ball on the ground.
Ireland had made a confident opening and O'Gara soon had a chance to atone for his earlier error by helping set up a fifth minute try for Rob Kearney. It was O'Gara's well judged miss pass that sent Murphy marauding into space before an inside ball to Kearney gave the Leinster winger sight of the line.
Kearney raced for the whitewash and rode a tackle from Jamie Noon as he placed the ball down for a fine finish to a well-worked move. O'Gara added the conversion and then a penalty to give Ireland an early 10-0 lead - fitting reward for their dominance. Cipriani had made a composed start, producing a neat pass that put number eight Nick Easter through and then landing a long-range penalty.
England were being hindered by their poor kicking with scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth sending one punt straight into touch. But they burst into life with Sackey starting and finishing their first try. The Wasps' wing bulldozed his way through tackles from Shane Horgan, Andrew Trimble and O'Gara to initiate the attack and then accepted the scoring pass from Iain Balshaw once the ball had been recycled. Cipriani converted.
Ireland's defence was being pierced with increasing regularity and it almost cracked again in the 25th minute. A delayed pass from Cipriani bamboozled the visitors and centre Noon found himself in acres of space but without the gas to finish. Lesley Vainikolo was on his shoulder screaming for the ball but Noon could not find his man and then Toby Flood knocked on at the breakdown.
Flood made amends with a crafty kick and chase and when Ireland infringed Cipriani was on hand to nudge his side ahead. The Wasps starlet then produced an enormous touchfinder to send the Irish back into their own half.
Ireland were dealt a blow in the 35th minute when Murphy - probably their best player in the match so far - limped off and was replaced by Luke Fitzgerald. Flood, standing at first receiver, then sent Cipriani charging through several green shirts but Wigglesworth blundered to halt the move.
Ireland made an encouraging start to the second half, stretching England with some slick passing and a couple of battering ram charges from Donncha O'Callaghan and Paul O'Connell. Horgan held onto the ball when he should have passed and from the ensuing counter-attack England won a penalty that Cipriani sent between the uprights.
Ulster hooker Rory Best was heavily involved as Ireland probed down the left to good effect with Kearney and Tommy Bowe making ground. It took a timely intervention from Sackey to save the day but the Wasps winger paid for his heroics by taking a bang above his right eye which forced him off.
Tom Croft was caught holding onto the ball on the ground as Ireland poured forward but O'Gara missed the routine penalty. The Irish were attacking with greater menace with substitute flanker Simon Easterby overlooking a two-man overlap.
A mighty cheer greeted Wilkinson's arrival in the 53rd minute with Flood making way for his Newcastle team-mate who slotted in at inside centre with Cipriani staying at fly-half. Wilkinson was involved in two well-worked backline moves, the second of which yielded a try for substitute Mathew Tait.
Vainikolo's presence caused Ireland's defence to hesitate and Tait, who had replaced Sackey, shrugged off a tackle from Kearney to score. Tait's reward was to be taken off as Sackey reappeared with a bandage around his head and Cipriani booted the conversion as he slipped over.
England 33 (13)
Tries: Sackey, Tait, Noon.
Cons: Cipriani (3)
Pens: Cipriani (4).
Ireland 10 (10)
England: I Balshaw (Gloucester); P Sackey (Wasps), J Noon (Newcastle), T Flood (Newcastle), L Vainikolo (Gloucester); D Cipriani (Wasps), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), L Mears (Bath), P Vickery (Wasps. capt), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Bath), T Croft (Leicester), M Lipman (Bath), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: G Chuter (Leicester), M Stevens (Bath), B Kay (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), P Hodgson (London Irish), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), M Tait (Newcastle).
Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); T Bowe (Ulster), A Trimble (Ulster), S Horgan (Leinster), R Kearney (Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster, captain), E Reddan (Wasps); M Horan (Munster), R Best (Ulster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), D Leamy (Munster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: B Jackman (Leinster), T Buckley (Munster), M O'Driscoll (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli), P Stringer (Munster), P Wallace (Ulster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster).