England had their 2010 Grand Slam dream extinguished on Saturday as a Tommy Bowe double guided Ireland to a 20-16 victory.
England had their Grand Slam dream extinguished on Saturday as a Tommy Bowe double guided Ireland to a 20-16 victory at Twickenham.
Despite dominating for long periods in the first period and significant chunks of the second, England were ultimately handed a painful lesson in how to take your chances by the champions.
Twice the Irish pounced on occasions where they sensed their hosts might be suspect of being caught cold. First it was turnover ball that Jamie Heaslip brought out before Jonathan Sexton slid a nice ball through for the onrushing Bowe, who cruised past Lewis Moody to the rolling ball.
Then with England looking like they were heading to victory thanks to a Jonny Wilkinson drop-goal, the wing then cut a beautiful line at first-receiver to give the travelling support all the motivation they needed to have a good night out in London.
Victory means that Ireland have kept alive their hopes of retaining the Six Nations and they will be hoping for England to do them a favour in Paris.
They do have one slight injury concern ahead of their upcoming meeting with the Welsh, however, as captain and centre Brian O'Driscoll was stretchered from the field following an accidental collision with Paul O'Connell's knee during the second-half.
England had spoken all week of playing with greater attacking ambition and sure enough they ran their first possession from the 22. And although it did not pay dividends following that aforementioned Bowe opener on four minutes, there was much to encourage HQ.
To make matters worse, England lock Simon Shaw left the field gingerly holding his wrist and was replaced by Louis Deacon.
Wilkinson missed with a 40-metre drop-goal as advantage was played and then hit the post with his penalty attempt.
England continued and piled forward and a barnstorming run and offload from Nick Easter sent Dylan Hartley to within a metre of the line. Then Wilkinson lofted a deft chip into the in-goal area intended for Delon Armitage but the full-back could not get there in time.
The fly-half then got England on the board with a simple penalty after fifteen minutes before the heavens opened and, with a period of torrential rain, the game became a physical tussle. Ireland's forwards adapted better. Their driving game was superior and England's lineout began to malfunction, as it did in the second-half against the Italians.
Keith Earls sliced dangerously through the England midfield before Sexton, having seen one 50-metre effort fall just short, exchanged penalties with Wilkinson. Ireland took an 8-6 lead into the interval.
Upon their return from respective dressing rooms, Sexton and Wilkinson both missed shots at goal but Ireland's forwards retained the edge, both in the set-piece and at the breakdown.
The margins were extremely fine and England's discipline, as it did in the corresponding game last season, let them down at a key moment. We are referring to an England scrum which had won a penalty but referee Lawrence reversed it after Care hauled Tomas O'Leary to the ground. Sexton found touch, O'Connell claimed the lineout, Ireland set a platform in midfield and they swung the ball left for Earls to race over in the corner.
England needed an immediate response and produced it, drawing level with a maiden Test try from Cole after a lengthy deliberation from the Italian TMO Carlo Damasco.
Then came the O'Connell/O'Driscoll incident which saw the momentum shift. Wilkinson could not capitalise immediately, missing a third penalty attempt, but with nine minutes remaining he stepped onto his right foot and drilled a drop-goal.
England led for the first time in the match but it lasted just two minutes as Ireland crafted a brilliant response, winning clean lineout ball for Bowe to slice through England's defence.
Man-of-the-match: After picking up his first two tries of the Championship – vitally important ones at that – Tommy Bowe earns the accolade.
Moment-of-the-match: Bowe's second try was much like JP Pietersen's in the recent British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa. A great individual score off the set-piece that killed off England while keeping alive Ireland's slim hopes of retaining their trophy.
Villain-of-the-match: The clumsiness of Paul O'Connell should his accidental collision with Brian O'Driscoll rule out the centre against Wales in Dublin.
Tries: Bowe 2, Earls
England: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Mark Cueto, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Riki Flutey, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 James Haskell, 5 Steve Borthwick, 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Tim Payne.
Replacements: 16 Lee Mears, 17 David Wilson, 18 Louis Deacon, 19 Joe Worsley 20 Paul Hodgson, 21 Toby Flood, 22 Ben Foden.
Ireland: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Leo Cullen, 19 Shane Jennings , 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Andrew Trimble
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Christophe Berdos (France), David Changleng (Scotland)
Television match official: Carlo Damasco (Italy)