New Zealand V France, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand
RWC 2011 final
New Zealand 8 France 7: All Blacks on top of the world
Graham Henry's team win World Cup after 24 years of hurt, but noble France run them mighty close in a puslating final at Eden Park
A nerve-racked New Zealand won the World Cup on home soil by the narrowest of margins after being given the scare of their lives by a French side unrecognisable from their semi-final selves.
A try from Tony Woodcock proved the key moment as the All Blacks ended 24 doubt-plagued years without the trophy. Graham Henry's team were always in front from that 15th-minute moment but France, and their relentless captain Thierry Dusautoir in particular, earned huge praise and almost the win that would have shaken the foundations of world rugby and left the All Blacks desolate.
There were signs even pre-match that France would not choose to lay down and die. They faced the haka, this one extra-long and boring for the occasion, in a deep V wedge and when it started France advanced in a gang. That round was definitely France's and it was they who had all the early ball and phases. New Zealand lost two early lineouts on their own throw and the early nerves were shown when Piri Weepu snatched horribly at the first penalty shot and missed.
But all was well after 15 minutes, after Morgan Parra left the field following what seemed to be a deliberate forearm hit by Kieran Read. France were groggy and conceded a lineout near their line, New Zealand effectively split the lineout in two and threw long to Richie McCaw, who flipped the ball down to Woodcock. The prop simply motored happily though a chasm in the French line and scored, and not even Weepu’s missed conversion could stifle the sense of relief. After their fast start it was a shockingly soft score for France to give away.
Referee Craig Joubert kept the momentum going nicely with a ludicrous penalty against the France scrum. The only bright spot for France came from Weepu, who missed another easy penalty, to his own disgust, but the momentum and the territory was all dressed in black.
It was also noticeable, and disgraceful, that when French players were down injured play was waved on and when Aaron Cruden went down with a knee injury, the game stopped – as it should be, for both teams. Poor Cruden had to leave, though opinion was split as to which side this favoured. Certainly, Francois Trinh-Duc arriving for Morgan Parra helped France, with the fly-half making two mazy and cutting runs.
France did well to steady themselves late on in the first half, and New Zealand dipped in pace and precision. It was still a contest at the breakdown.
The match accelerated out of second gear at the start of the second half when France started making ground with their backs, with Aurelien Rougerie and Trinh-Duc making space and drawing from McCaw a shocking illegal kill - the referee awarded a penalty for a stone-cold yellow card but Dimitri Yachvili missed the kick - and to what was either relief or incredulity, Stephen Donald put over an easy penalty to make it 8-0 to New Zealand.
Then came the French revival try. Trinh-Duc and Rougerie cut New Zealand to ribbons up the middle, they moved the ball to the left and William Servat set it up. Rougerie, deadly dangerous by now, sent Thierry Dusautoir over at the posts and the conversion from Yachvili made it 8-7 and game on.
There was an air of panic about the New Zealand replacements as the last quarter approached. By now the tension was incredible and France were the better team, with their captain not really a creature of this world.
France had a great chance to take the lead after 64 minutes when Trinh-Duc kikced for goal from 48 metres and was wide, at a time when the effect of failling behind could have been crippling to New Zealand. France eased the pressure with some poor tactical kicks, too.
In the final 10 minutes, New Zealand existed only in willpower and on the doubt that the referee would have the courage to make the final call. France dominated, they could easily have won a penalty four or five times in the rucks, none came, and the clock ticked and ticked.
Scorers: New Zealand: Try: Woodcock 15 Pen: Donald
France: Try: Dusautoir 47 Con: Trinh-Duc
Scoring sequence: (New Zealand first): 5-0, (half-time), 8-0, 8-7
New Zealand: Dagg, Jane, Smith, Nonu, Kahui, Cruden, Weepu, Woodcock, Mealamu, O Franks, Thorn, Whitelock, Kaino, McCaw, Read
France: Médard, Clerc, Rougerie, Mermoz, Palisson, Parra, Yachvili, Poux, Servat, Mas, Papé, Nallet, Dusautoir, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Stephen Jones - The Sunday Times - October 16th, 2011
New Zealand V Australia, Eden Park Auckland, New Zealand
RWC 2011 semi-final
All Blacks ease into final
New Zealand have won the World Cup. It is expected that they will hold the presentation until after the All Blacks have lined up against 15 largely stationary blue French dustbins, then they will begin the coronation. Deservedly. The only possible tension surrounding the final will lie in the ability of France to keep the score below 50.
New Zealand beat Australia 20-6 in the World Cup semi-final and should have no problems against France
The All Blacks' authority in this game was resounding, based on the hungry pack in which the counter-rucking and the lineout were superb; on the brightness of the emerging Israel Dagg at full-back, and the wholehearted commitment of the referee, who gave such a home-town performance that were it anything other than subconscious, the freedom of Auckland would be a formality.
From where must you enter the breakdown? If you are an All Black, from anywhere you like. When is an advantage over after an All Black knock-on? When Australia have had their very next kick under pressure charged down.
It was a shame that what was a decent occasion should have been corrupted. Quade Cooper, who was quite magnificent at fly-half for Australia, full of ideas and raw courage, was on a different planet to the mediocre Aaron Cruden opposite, even though Cruden was playing in an armchair of a galaxy of possession and field position.
Yet the Auckland crowd turned the stomach by continually booing and jeering Cooper, for no apparent reason, showing a small-minded bigotry that was totally out of place at a sectarian Glasgow football match, let alone in the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Cooper was hit by a forearm smash by Sonny Bill Williams - and don’t hold your breath, everyone, for a suspension. A deliberate forearm smash when committed by an All Black will be regarded as a far less serious offence than an entirely accidental tackle perpetrated by a Welshman.
To complete the picture, the New Zealand television producer working the knobs for the pictures shown on the stadium televisions focused endlessly on Cooper in the dying moments when the match had been decided, just so the crowd could increase their derision and mickey-taking. Granted, it was about the first thing the host broadcaster has caught in this event, with the torrent of nonsense overhead shots and silly close-ups, but it added to the sense of unease with which any neutral could have viewed the proceedings.
The scoreline is deceptive. New Zealand relied almost exclusively on Dagg for their attacking edges, with Ma’a Nonu well held, but such was the intensity, precision and accuracy of New Zealand’s play that it felt like a 30-0 victory. Australia’s defence was heroic, their verve never failed, but their own attacking attempts were ham-fisted, and outside the superb Cooper, only James O’Connor was a threat. The soft underbelly of this Aussie team was exposed, with Steve Moore their only class front-rower.
New Zealand began with an outstanding series of attacks, scored their try when Dagg dummied his way through and made a try with an inside pass to Nonu. The ponderous scrum-half Piri Weepu, a hero of the crowd, kicked four penalties and Cruden dropped a goal. Cooper dropped a goal for Australia and O’Connor kicked a penalty and it was all done and dusted.
New Zealand move onwards at pace for the non-event final, Australia move sideways to meet the wounded Welsh for the bronze medal. That is the only outstanding issue of this tournament
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Richard Kahui; Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Jerome Kaino; Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn; Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Replacements: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Ali Williams, Victor Vito, Andy Ellis, Stephen Donald, Sonny Bill Williams
Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O'Connor, Anthony Fainga'a, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Radike Samo, David Pocock, Rocky Elsom; James Horwill (capt), Dan Vickerman; Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu. Replacements: Tatafu Polota Nau, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Ben McCalman, Luke Burgess, Berrick Barnes, Rob Horne
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Stephen Jones - The Sunday Times - October 9th, 2011
New Zealand V Argentina, Eden Park Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand 33 Argentina 10: All Blacks reach last four
Graham Henry’s stuttering side beat the Pumas to set up a mouth-watering World Cup semi-final against Australia
Julio Farias Cabello goes over for the opening try in the 30th minute, before Felipe Contepomi converts the follow up to put the Pumas 7-6 ahead.
New Zealand are safely through to the semi-finals of the World Cup, where they will play Australia in a classic trans-Tasman battle next Sunday. They were never going to be beaten here although the heroism of the Pumas lasted until the end of yet another outstanding World Cup campaign – at the end of which Argentina are safely among the seeded teams for England 2015.By no means all the news for the All Blacks was good news. They lost Colin Slade, the flaky replacement fly-half for Dan Carter, with what appeared to be a significant groin injury. Furthermore Mils Muliaina, who was winning his 100th cap, was also limping at the end while Richie McCaw, the captain, was off the pace for much of an absorbing game, clearly slowed by his foot injury.
In the end, New Zealand managed only two tries, both of them late in the game, scored by Kieran Read and Brad Thorn, the latter an incredibly fortunate affair with the ball bouncing luckily for New Zealand after a charged-down kick.
Piri Weepu, the scrum-half and occasional fly-half, kicked seven penalties as the referee gave Argentina a mighty pasting with his decisions. Aaron Cruden, the next fly-half in line now that Slade is injured, added a conversion for New Zealand.
Probably for the first time in this tournament, the refereeing left a nasty taste in the mouth. Nigel Owens of Wales, refereeing just one day before the officials are announced for the semi-final stages, was never going to rock the boat to the extent of bothering to penalise New Zealand unduly but to award only two penalties against their largely illegal breakdown activities was pushing things too far.
At the end, an angry Felipe Contepomi remonstrated with all three of the officials, and probably would have been pleased had Owens been awarded a semi-final before this match so that we could have had a normal game.
New Zealand will be anxious about injuries and also that practically their only penetrating runner was Ma’a Nonu in the midfield, although Weepu held things together reasonably well at scrum-half.
Argentina’s defence was outstanding until the end and at one stage in the first half they took a 7-6 lead with a superb try – created when No 8 Leonardo Senatore made a remarkable break from the back of the scrum and the move ended when Julio Farias Cabello drove over from close range. The try was also remarkable since the creator and the scorer come from Argentina’s amateur domestic rugby scene.
If only Argentina had played more warm-up games before the tournament and been given the opportunity to prepare better, they would surely have beaten England in the opening match in the pool. Before they enter the Tri-Nations tournament next year they will need to expand their game and add more tryscoring ability. All the rest they already have.
New Zealand: Tries: Read, Thorn Con: Weepu Pens: Weepu (7)
Argentina: Try: Farias Cabello Con: Contepomi Pen: Bosch
Yellow card: Argentina: Vergallo
New Zealand: Muliaina (Toeava 40min), Jane, Smith, Nonu, S B Williams, Slade (Cruden 33min), Weepu, Woodcock, Mealamu (Hore 65min), Franks, Thorn, Whitelock (A Williams 62min), Kaino, McCaw, Read.
Argentina: Rodriguez, Camacho, Bosch, Contepomi, Agulla (Imhoff 50min), Fernandez, Vergallo (Lalanne 49min), Roncero (Ayerza 39min), Ledesma (Creevy 70min), Figallo (Scelzo 59min), Carizza (Campos 62min), Albacete, Farias Cabello, Leguizamon, Senatore
Stephen Jones - The Sunday Times - September 18th, 2011
Ireland V Australia, Hamilton, New Zealand
Australia 6 Ireland 15: Aussies savaged by Irish pack
Alive! Romanticism, dreams and the wonderful power of sport to shock you to your socks. Alive and kicking. And so, too, the magnificent, fighting Irish. They took such an iron grip on the TriNations champions throughout this fantastic match and this fantastic occasion at Eden Park and they squeezed so tightly that Australian faces went blue.
The previously unsung Rob Kearney was instrumental in Ireland's triumph (Nigel Marple)
Sexton, O'Gara and the Irish pack make a nonsense of their pre-tournament form to deliver the first genuine shock of the World Cup
The previously unsung Rob Kearney was instrumental in Ireland's triumph (Nigel Marple)
In effect, Ireland laid an explosive charge under the whole tournament, ridiculing smug predictions of later permutations, giving themselves the probability of a winnable quarter-final against either Wales or Samoa, making a nonsense of their awful recent form and sending that part of Auckland that was Irish for a day into sporting ecstasy.
If very few people predicted this result against an Australia team who have been improving rapidly, then still fewer would have predicted the foundation stone of the Ireland performance. It was up front, in the scrum, that area of the game where Ireland have desperately held on against superior powers and, frankly, have been the ridicule of the world for a decade and more of prop-less operations.
And yet there they were out on Eden Park, with Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross engaging with the Australian pack, dominating and beasting them after a slow start with such a devil-like finality that the New Zealand referee, Bryce Lawrence, was compelled to award Ireland the penalties that won the match — as the Australian front-row caved in under pressure or popped up because they could no longer absorb the weight.
So Ireland have a scrum. We can now expect the West Indies to develop world champion swimmers; we can expect Georgia to produce ballet dancers; we can even expect England to produce a wonderful football team. Ireland have a scrum, it dominated Australia, and wonders will never cease.
But more yet. On this platform, Ireland’s pack rampaged. It was unfortunate for Australia that key men such as David Pocock and Digby Ioane could not play. But what would they have done, playing off the back foot? Ireland’s thundering back row of Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris came blasting towards them, blasting through tackles and turning them. It was a physicality that brutally exposed Australia as dry-ball artists but lacking the relentless physicality needed.
The truth is Australia never found even a smattering of their rhythm and momentum. Quade Cooper did his best to prompt them but the lines had long been forgotten and Ireland’s authority just grew and grew. To recover their pre-eminence, Australia will now have to beat South Africa in the quarter-finals and unless they can shape up physically at all points in the team, they will definitely not do so.
The closing stages brought something close to hysteria and fanaticism. Australia, finally drawing on some inspiration from James O’Connor and Will Genia, began to make some dents but deep inside the last 10 minutes Tommy Bowe sprinted away on the interception and ran 90 metres before being hauled down by O’Connor agonisingly short — this after Genia and James Horwill had been stopped inches from the Irish line at the other end.
It had always been close, and it was 6-6 at half-time. But even by then, something was in the air. Those of us who had expected Australia to win were having doubts.
Best inspired Ireland not only with his scrummaging but also with some clever off-loads. Paul O’Connell once took part in a move on four separate occasions, leading to a drop-goal by Jonny Sexton, one of two kicks he put over, although he did miss with three others. Also in that first half had been clear evidence that the Irish scrum was getting on top.
Sexton put Ireland in front with a penalty after half-time after Ireland’s two flanking rhinos had made powerful bursts. Ireland’s scrum forced Australia to collapse after 53 minutes, only for Sexton to hit a post and see the ball bounce away, just out of reach of the in-rushing Brian O’Driscoll.
Then came just a semblance of a change of pattern. Australia set up some attacking platforms, the giant O’Connell did brilliantly to interfere with what could have been a scoring pass from Cooper to wide runners. But again, Ireland took refuge in a powerful defensive scrum. They also made light of disruptions caused when Gordon D’Arcy had to leave with hamstring trouble and when O’Driscoll was temporarily off in the blood bin.
Ross and the scrummage simply redoubled their efforts. It was massively to the credit of the referee that he read the scrums so well because so many other officials would have bottled it and started penalising each scrum alternately. Not this time. Australia collapsed twice more, Ronan O’Gara put over the penalties which stretched it to 15-6 and the occasion reached boiling point.
Even after that, there was drama to come. Genia, whose anger and frustration was obvious throughout the second half, began to put the odd Wallaby through the odd gap. The Irish defence remained brilliant, even with Sexton out of position at inside-centre, and gradually it dawned even on Australia that a team normally able to score two or three tries inside a short period of dominance were going to have the utmost difficulty in scoring even one.
Incredibly, the TriNations champions could not add a single point to the total they had run up by half-time. They found no champion, no core figure to inspire them, although at least the maligned Cooper never gave up trying. Bowe went on his way to try to seal it in spades. James Slipper of Australia came on as replacement prop, and immediately collapsed in the face of Ross and company. Ross celebrated this dominance by charging up to join an attack and almost managing to score himself.
The crowd counted down every second of the last minute and after the clock died, the ball was hoofed into the stands. Ireland were now a force worthy of the utmost respect, Australia looked thunderstruck. Rugby World Cup 2011 has taken off, like a rocket, coloured emerald green.
Just in time. We had seen Romania and Fiji savaged earlier and as the teams took the field at Eden Park we wondered if this World Cup would ever grant our craving for a shock. But by the end, Ireland were playing so well we had stopped talking about shocks and started applauding the superior, stronger, more powerful team. Hail Ireland.
Star man: Mike Ross (Ireland)
Scorers: Australia: Pens: O’Connor (2) Ireland: Pens: Sexton (2) O’Gara (2) DG: Sexton
Referee: B Lawrence (New Zealand)
Australia: K Beale; K O'Connor, A Faingaa (D Mitchell 74min), P McCabe, A Ashley-Cooper; Q Cooper, W Genia; S Kepu, D Vickerman (R Simmons 63min), B Alexander (J Slipper 62min), D Vickerman, J Horwill (capt, R Elsom (W Palu 72min), B McCalman, R Samo (S Higginbotham 74min)
Ireland: R Kearney, T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt, A Trimble 59-61min), G D'Arcy (R O’Gara 50min), K Earls, J Sexton, E Reddan (C Murray 58min), C Healy, R Best, M Ross (T Court 76min), D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Ferris, S O'Brien, J Heaslip
Wales 19 - England 9: Wasteful England picked off
13 August 2011
After two weeks of serious battling, it is Wales who now look the more convincing team as the World Cup approaches.
This was a victory that they thoroughly deserved, and it was gained with a team that will be augmented by at least five players of true world class who were absent yesterday.
Surely, the whole thing will be orchestrated by the marvellous James Hook from fly-half. When Hook moved to that position from the wilderness of fullback yesterday, the comparisons with the England playmakers were brutal.
The myth grew around the England camp, and among some supporters in Cardiff last night, that they were decidedly unlucky. The basis of this myth was laid by nearly an hour of England dominance, in which their forwards had authority in terms of possession and territory. It was a period of pressure that involved six consecutive scrums on the Wales line and it shut out the hosts completely.
For any English supporter or team official clinging to this myth, reality will be like a bath in ice. England were meaty, but meat heads. For all their authority, they had nothing remotely resembling an attack, their midfield was diabolically bad, and their composure, skill and pace when taking chances simply did not exist.
It must have been galling for the likes of Louis Deacon and Hendre Fourie to turn back so much ball only to see it frittered away.
Toby Flood and the England midfield trod in a bog of indecision, lack of skill and tortuous bundling.
Take just two blown chances. Danny Care made a brilliant break to set England onto the front foot and when the ball came back to Flood, with all of England screaming for the ball out wide, he lamely turned it back inside. You sensed that if England had 14 men overlapping down the right, Flood would have passed the ball back inside to the ref. Hape, who was embarrassingly bad in all phases of play, butchered another strong position with a fumbling turnover.
It is difficult to know how many reality checks this England need to grasp that they have it so wrong. Please watch a replay of the game and tell me that England have a midfield. Tell me that they have leaders — when Wales came steaming back in the final quarter, showing an attacking intent completely beyond England, the visiting team collapsed totally as Hook conjured a victory out of thin air.
Watch the replay and tell me that England do not need an elite performance director to make sense of the shambles that the international team and its back-up procedures has become. They now go to Dublin in a fortnight to play a powerful Ireland team with around eight of their first-choice selections in serious doubt.
Wales were not lucky to win — they deserved to because they were the better team. Furthermore, their coaches must take plaudits, for it seems that their rigorous fitness programmes have delivered a team with more endurance than England. Dan Lydiate on the blindside and Jamie Roberts in midfield led a magnificent Welsh line, which England could never penetrate.
No, Wales were lucky because they did not pick a team to win the game. They were hammered in the scrum and their three mighty front-rowers, Gethin Jenkins, Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones, are now apparently sharing a stable with Shergar, so infrequently are they spotted these days. When those three return — if they can ever be found — and when Ryan Jones comes back into the side, then Hook will be given something that he can really orchestrate.
For some reason, there was little panic amongst the 73,000 in the Millennium stadium even when England were on top. It was not as if the England driving maul was particularly terrifying and England made too many mistakes to maintain the pressure on the Welsh line. But at least they were in authority, and they led by 6-3, and then again by 9-6, well into the second half. Their lineout was superior, Fourie was a devil on the loose ball. If their attack did not exist and their kicking game lacked penetration, then it seemed that sheer force of habit of encamping on the Welsh line would see them home.
But as the final quarter approached, Wales had Hook at fly-half and they had managed to negotiate a sticky 10 minutes when Roberts was in the sinbin. Flood had been playing on the front foot all day, but suddenly, with Lydiate and the promising Tony Faletau now turning the tables, Wales looked far more dangerous.
Just before the hour, they launched a biting series of attacks, with young George North making ground with the best of them and Hook asking questions of England. Eventually, Hook beautifully dummied his way over at the posts.
His conversion made it 13-9 and the sudden slump to English shoulders was noticeable.
Wales gave England sustenance with some silly handling errors, but Hook then nailed two monster penalties to make the closing stages a procession — a telling contribution since Phillips was in the sinbin for the last 10 minutes.
On the day, England won the battle of the joke kit — they had forsaken their silly black jerseys of last week but this time wore jersey numbers which were indistinguishable.
But in the end, it was the team inappropriately dressed in black that came home strongest.
Star man: Dan Lydiate (Wales)
Scorers: Wales: Tries: Hook 57 Con: Hook Pens: Priestland (2), Hook (2)
England: Pens: Flood (3)
Yellow cards: Wales: Roberts 40, Phillips 70
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland)
Wales: J Hook; G North, J Roberts, G Henson (S Williams, Scarlets, 31min) , SM Williams, R Priestland (A Brew, Dragons, 40min), M Phillips; P James (R Bevington, Ospreys, 69min), L Burns (H Bennett, Ospreys, 52min), C Mitchell (P James, 77min), L Charteris, AW Jones (J Turnbull, Scarlets, 60min) D Lydiate, S Warburton, T Faletau
England: B Foden; M Banahan (M Tindall, 69min), M Tindall (capt, D Armitage, L Irish, 59min), S Hape, M Cueto; T Flood (C Hodgson, Sale, 69min), R Wigglesworth (D Care, Harlequins, 30min); A Corbisiero (M Stevens, Saracens, 59min), S Thompson (L Mears Bath, 59min), D Cole, L Deacon (T Palmer, Stade Français, 67min) C Lawes, T Wood, H Fourie (J Haskell, Black Rams, 50min), N Easter.
Read on for Stephen Jones' player ratings from the Millennium stadium
England V Ireland - Six Nations 2011 - Stephen Jones Times
It was impossible to detect among the tumult of tens of thousands of enraptured Irish in the Aviva stadium but somewhere was the sound of chickens coming home to roost. Ireland destroyed England’s aspirations of a Grand Slam and real World Cup contention, and the final scoreline did not even hint at the total authority of a home side who had the finest blend of passion and poise. All this would have been an ice-bath shock to those inside and outside the English camp who have overrated their progress so far this season.
They are RBS Six Nations champions but no trophy will ever be lifted with a feeling of such let-down. Their reaction to pressure was illustrated by a galaxy of handling errors, and by the banishment of Ben Youngs to the bin after he threw the ball away to stop a quick Irish throw. He never came back, his manager having lost patience with him.
England were demolished in all parts of the match and the home side would not have been flattered had they scored three more tries.
Ireland were magnificently inspired by Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan in the second row, by Mike Ross in a dominant scrummage, by the authority of Jonathan Sexton at fly-half and by the electricity surrounding every intervention of Brian O’Driscoll.
There was one marvellous moment when the two locks hacked the ball on in an old-fashioned foot rush, and it was just as if the ghost of the rampaging Moss Keane had risen to recall the great Irish bloody-minded victories of way back.
Except that it was also thoroughly modern stuff. Ireland’s finishing was poor but they attacked with purpose and pace and alacrity. They also ruthlessly hunted England’s glaring weaknesses.
England’s attacking play was a millimetre above a disgrace, with Toby Flood shovelling the ball behind a line of dummy-runners to a second line of ponderous, deep-lying and slow-moving non-dummy runners. Allegedly.
There was no obvious leadership in England’s ranks (another fond hope exploded), no focal point to absorb the pressure. Only when Jonny Wilkinson and Steve Thompson arrived in the second half did the visitors have a shape.
Perhaps above all, we saw a victory for a country that trusts in experience, that realises the Test arena is nowhere to blood or develop players; a victory for the gnarled and the composed over the fresh-faced, the undercooked and the youthful.
The first half constituted the definitive period of play of this whole Six Nations season. Ireland crushed England’s ball carriers and took England to a high pace where they were never comfortable. They even battered the England scrum. In terms of definitive moments, the first scrum was monstrous. The unrated Irish pack shoved their opponents almost back to the centre of the city. The ripples spread.
Sexton soon had Ireland in front at 9-0 with three penalties, two caused by Irish pressure and one by a silly illegal tackle by Chris Ashton on Sexton.
But, again, England were lucky that it was not worse. Eoin Reddan began a move that launched Sean O’Brien straight at Flood and after Ireland had recycled the ball, some swift and flat passing put O’Driscoll over in the corner — only for referee Bryce Lawrence to rule that the pass from Tommy Bowe had been forward. This was the sort of pass that referees now routinely allow, but good on Lawrence for taking a stand.
But Ireland simply thundered on. After Flood had missed a penalty from close range, Ireland had their breakaway, with two locks kicking the ball on and everybody in the stadium rising. Ben Foden had to hack clear but Ireland attacked with purpose on the counter. England were penalised for offside, Sexton took the tap penalty and sent Bowe side-stepping over for the try.
It was a relief, therefore, when Flood finally put a penalty on the board, to discover that England were still on the field. But there was worse to come for them in the shape of the inspired David Wallace. First, he took the ball off Nick Easter like a bully in the playground, and it was all Flood and Ashton could do to stop the thundering Wallace scoring in the corner.
However, it was then that Youngs ludicrously threw the ball into the crowd to prevent the quick lineout and was sent to the sin-bin as Sexton kicked the penalty.
We then found out that the justice meted out to Youngs was summary, because at the end of his ban he was replaced by Danny Care.
Ireland soon pulled further ahead. They launched a barrage of attacks in the third quarter and again the locks were heavily involved. After space had appeared frequently in the move, they launched one more attack and even though the final pass from O’Callaghan bounced up to O’Driscoll, such was the powerful nature of the attack that the Ireland captain still had time to score the try he deserved.
A regal conversion from Sexton on the touchline made it 24-3 as England emptied their bench in panic, with Wilkinson arriving to try to orchestrate anything remotely resembling a revival.
Remote was the word. Thompson did score when Ireland easily won a lineout, Wallace dropped back out of the line to act as first receiver, and Thompson popped up and intercepted and negotiated the 20 yards to the line to touch down. That was that for England’s attack.
The bewildering removal of the dominant Mike Ross from proceedings gave England breathing space. He had mastered young Alex Corbisiero in the scrum and his absence robbed Ireland of momentum. But it was still the home team who looked more likely to score, to take the points that they richly deserved.
And as the elegant Sexton and the thunderous O’Connell were replaced towards the end, there was far more of the air of laps of honour, rather than tactical re-arrangements.
“We showed real intensity and this was a complete performance,” said O’Driscoll afterwards. “The pack fronted up and [that] along with the control of Jonathan Sexton was the winning of the game.
“It was an impressive performance and the result took care of itself.”
Splendid Ireland, and an England side acquainted with the starkest reality.
Star man: Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Bowe 28, O’Driscoll 47, Con: Sexton Pens: Sexton (4) England: Try: Thompson 52 Pen: Flood
Yellow card: England: Youngs
Referee: B Lawrence (New Zealand)
Ireland: K Earls; T Bowe, B O’Driscoll (capt), G D’Arcy (P Wallace, Ulster, 78min), A Trimble; J Sexton (R O’Gara, Munster, 69min), E Reddan (P Stringer, Munster, 78min); C Healy, R Best (S Cronin, Connacht, 78min) M Ross (T Court, Ulster, 58min), D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (L Cullen, Leinster, 78min), S O’Brien, D Wallace (D Leamy, Munster, 71min), J Heaslip.
England: B Foden; C Ashton, M Banahan, S Hape, M Cueto (D Strettle, Saracens, 65min); T Flood (J Wilkinson, Toulon, 50min), B Youngs (D Care, Harlequins, 45min); A Corbisiero, D Hartley (S Thompson, Leeds, 51min), D Cole (P Doran-Jones, Gloucester, 51min), L Deacon (T Croft, Leicester, 54min), T Palmer (S Shaw, Wasps, 25min), T Wood, J Haskell, N Easter (capt).