Ireland down England to keep dream alive
February 28, 2009
England's Toby Flood tackles Ireland's Ronan O'Gara during the clash at Croke Park
© Getty Images
Ireland defeated England 14-13 in a turgid Six Nations match at Croke Park to take control of the tournament and keep their grand slam hopes alive.
Ireland capitalised on Wales's Friday night defeat to France in Paris thanks to a try and drop-goal from inspirational skipper Brian O'Driscoll, while all of the focus for England will be on the two yellow cards meted out by referee Craig Joubert.
Prop Phil Vickery and replacement scrum-half Danny Care both spent ten minutes in the bin during the second half, costing England eight points in the process. A late try from fullback Delon Armitage gave England faint hope but their discipline cost them dear once again.
While the scoreline may have suggested a thrilling encounter, this was the ugliest of games. A penalty apiece for opposing fly-halves Rona O'Gara and Toby Flood were the only scores in a first half that was barely a shadow of the intense Test match witnessed in Paris on Friday night and a far cry from Ireland's riotous 43-13 win in the corresponding fixture in 2007.
England manager Martin Johnson made a change at fly-half for the trip to Dublin, Leicester's Flood replacing Andy Goode of Brive. Ireland coach Declan Kidney opted for more of the same from his side, selecting the same XV that defeated Italy in Rome last time out.
England started brightly and showed a willingness to keep the ball in hand. Some neat handling from Mike Tindall early on showed willingness to play before O'Gara exhibited some uncharacteristic early nerves when he cleared directly to touch after the ball had been passed into his 22. He then forebodingly missed his opening attempt at goal as the Croke Park crowd seemed strangely muted.
England centre Riki Flutey injected the first real pace in to the game when he broke clear down the centre of the field, but his midfield partner Tindall was unable to find the advancing Paul Sackey out wide.
The game then descended into a laborious bout of kicking before O'Gara aimed an excellent kick deep into the England 22. After Ireland had gathered lineout ball following a short clearance, scrum-half Tomas O'Leary dropped a kick in behind the English defence. Wing Tommy Bowe screeched through to try and touch the ball down, but England's Mark Cueto won the race and crucially made the save.
Another chip from O'Leary produced a second penalty attempt for O'Gara when Luke Fitzgerald smashed England scrum-half Harry Ellis before getting back to his feet and winning the penalty for holding on. This time O'Gara was horribly wide with his effort, letting England off once again.
It took until just before the half-hour stage for O'Gara to finally land a penalty for the home side, bisecting the posts for a 3-0 lead as the game plodded along.
With minutes of the first half remaining England finally gained some field position after O'Connell fumbled a lineout, hooker Lee Mears powering forward. Ireland were pinged on the floor and after the referee had broken up a scuffle Flood drew England level from in front of the posts.
Immediately following the restart England blindside James Haskell handed O'Gara a chance to edge his side ahead when he was penalised for handling in a ruck, but the Irish fly-half sent his kick cannoning off the post. Ireland were then back on the front foot after O'Connell was able to rip the ball from Delon Armitage in midfield and when the ball was slowed by the English defence Ireland skipper Brian O'Driscoll landed an elegant drop-goal from 30 metres.
Ireland continued to build pressure with their forwards finally showing some fire before O'Driscoll was clattered by a shoulder charge from Flutey that went unpunished. O'Driscoll was again in the wars minutes later when he was blocked off from collecting his chip into the England 22 by Armitage and from the penalty O'Gara this time put the ball in to the corner.
Ireland collected the ball at the back of the lineout and powered towards the England line with the increasingly influential O'Connell going close before England killed the ball, earning Ireland a second penalty.
O'Gara again went to the corner but as Ireland looked to maul the ball forward England hauled them down. As they recycled, England's yellow card fever returned. Vickery was given his marching orders after playing the ball while off his feet, ignoring the warnings of the referee and deserving his punishment.
Ireland opted for the scrum and earned a free kick from which Jamie Heaslip powered forward. Following several phases of pick and drive the ball came to O'Driscoll who kept low and drove over to score. O'Gara missed the conversion.
Sale utility back Mathew Tait replaced an injured Sackey for England just before the hour and he made an incisive break soon after only for the ball to be thrown in to touch. Tait had earlier in the movement missed an arching outside run from Flutey that would have sent the centre under the posts.
Ireland were penalised for not rolling away soon after, leaving Delon Armitage with a simple chance to draw England to within five points. The fullback duly obliged as Flood received treatment.
Any thoughts of English resurgence were dashed moments later as Ireland went further ahead. O'Gara kicked a penalty after Care became the latest England player to see a yellow card. The replacement scrum-half petulantly shoulder charged Ireland prop Marcus Horan in a ruck, his stupidity duly punished. Pictures relayed on the big screen showed a furious Martin Johnson punching his seat in disgust.
England finished with a flourish however, replacement fly-half Andy Goode sending Armitage through to score after a fine break from Tindall. With the extras added, Ireland endured a frantic final 30 seconds. Following a strong drive from England after the restart the ball was shipped wide, only for Mark Cueto to knock on and hand the narrowest of victories to Ireland.
Ireland: Robert Kearney (UCD - Leinster), Tommy Bowe (Ospreys), Brian O'Driscoll (UCD - Leinster, capt), Paddy Wallace (Ballymena - Ulster), Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College - Leinster), Ronan O'Gara (Cork Constitution - Munster), Tomas O'Leary (Dolphin - Munster), Marcus Horan (Shannon - Munster), Jerry Flannery (Shannon - Munster), John Hayes (Bruff- Munster), Donncha O'Callaghan (Cork Constitution - Munster), Paul O'Connell (Young Munster - Munster), Stephen Ferris (Dungannon - Ulster), David Wallace (Garryowen - Munster), Jamie Heaslip (Naas - Leinster)
Replacements: Rory Best (Banbridge - Ulster), Tom Court (Malone - Ulster), Mick O'Driscoll (Cork Constitution - Munster), Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution - Munster), Peter Stringer (Shannon - Munster), Gordon D'Arcy (Lansdowne - Leinster), Geordan Murphy (Leicester)
England: Delon Armitage (London Irish); Paul Sackey (Wasps), Mike Tindall (Gloucester), Riki Flutey (Wasps), Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks); Toby Flood (Leicester), Harry Ellis (Leicester); Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks), Lee Mears (Bath), Phil Vickery (Wasps), Steve Borthwick (Saracens, capt), Nick Kennedy (London Irish), James Haskell (Wasps), Joe Worsley (Wasps), Nick Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Julian White (Leicester), Tom Croft (Leicester), Luke Narraway (Gloucester), Danny Care (Harlequins), Andy Goode (Brive), Matthew Tait (Sale Sharks).
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Christophe Berdos (France), Peter Allan (Scotland)