20 March 2011

Six Nations reality check

England's dream of a Grand Slam was smashed into little pieces by an Ireland side that dominated every element of the game.  Up to now, they'd ridden their luck with narrow wins in three of the four matches: 7 points in Cardiff,  8 against France, and 6 against Scotland.  Scotland had shown that it was perfectly possible to stop England from playing,  and that's exactly what Ireland did.  They were able to spoil England's scrum ball with a 45 degree wheel away from Flood on at least three occasions, and they competed ferociously at the breakdown.   

England were on the wrong side of the refereeing team throughout the first half.  They gave a first silly penalty - the backs advancing too quickly at the line out to make it 3-0.  About 12 minutes into the match, Ireland wheeled the scrum, stranding Reddan offside, but he was allowed to play on as the ball emerged. Ashton was penalised for a high tackle on an assistant referee's call (6-0).  Cueto seemed to take an identical high tackle just after the restart, but no call was made.  O'Driscoll had a try disallowed for a forward pass, but an AR call for not rolling away led to a penalty in front of the posts instead (9-0).  Flood missed a shot at goal, and England failed to regather the drop out.  Ireland hacked ahead, and Foden attempted to clear to touch under severe pressure.  No England player was more than 2 metres ahead of the 22m line when the ball was caught near half way, but England were penalised anyway, presumably under the 10 metre law (11.4).  Bowe went over for a try after Sexton's quick tap (14-0).   Another high tackle by Ireland, and D'Arcy lying in the back of an England ruck, also failed to interest the referee or his assistants, although he whistled for offside at the ruck shortly after to give Flood a second shot at goal (14-3). Youngs managed to earn himself a yellow card after he ran the ball into touch and then threw it into the crowd after some last ditch defence against Wallace.  Another AR call, and Sexton duly slotted the penalty for a 17-3 half time lead..  

O'Driscoll scored a good try to take the record for the most tries scored by an Irishman.  Sexton converted, and at 24-3, Ireland were out of sight of the struggling England team.  England's best move of the second half started by Cueto near his own line, carried on with Wood, Hape, Care, Foden, Care, Flood and ended with Ashton passing right to Gordon D'Arcy instead of left to Flood under the Irish posts.  

An interception try by Thompson couldn't make the overall result respectable.  A missed conversion and earlier missed penalties meant that 8 points were lost that would have made a big difference to the final score of 24-8.

Conclusions: Banahan wasn't the right replacement for Tindall at centre, England's kickers lost direction - even Wilkinson.  Easter wasn't able to play an effective part as captain and Hape was pretty much anonymous.  The pack was bullied in tight and loose by Ireland, giving Flood little ball to play with.  Youngs' sin-bin was symptomatic of the rout.  Only Wood and maybe Foden emerged with real credit.

Ireland may have done England a huge unintended favour by giving them this reality check and wake-up call before the summer break leading up to the World Cup.

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