Take a Bowe Ireland, it is not over yet
England 16 Ireland 20
Was Paris, as Stephen Ferris suggested last week, just a blip? Who can say with total conviction?
But, having now watched Ireland play France and England over the last two weeks, I know where I’d put my money if forced to choose between them.
France outmuscled Ireland, punished mistakes with ruthless efficiency and won the forwards’ battle hands down. England did none of those things.
And Ireland found sizeable gaps in the English defence, witness three tries. They only got one in Paris.
Ireland deserved to beat England because they worked tirelessly, as a tackle count of 99 made and only one missed attests, and they were more clinical in that they actually played second fiddle in terms of possession and territory.
They started and finished on a high, scoring tries in the opening and dying minutes.
The first of Tommy Bowe’s two fine touchdowns came with only three minutes on the clock following a break by the excellent Jamie Heaslip and a pinpoint grubber by Jonathan Sexton, making his RBS 6 Nations debut.
The fact that he was taken out after threading a perfect ball in behind England’s vulnerable left wing, Ugo Moyne, did not faze him.
He received treatment, got up, took the conversion and although he missed, that also failed to bother him.
It wasn’t his only miscue off the tee on what was a difficult day for the Irish kicker and his English counterpart, Jonny Wilkinson, with the wind — and at times the rain — conspiring to thwart both of them.
Wilkinson missed two second half penalties; Sexton, in the course of the afternoon, missed two conversions and a brace of penalties.
That said, he did enough that was good to vindicate Declan Kidney’s bold decision to include him ahead of Ronan O’Gara.
Certainly Bowe saw a lot more of the ball courtesy of Sexton than was the case in either of the open
ing two matches in which O’Gara wore the number 10 jersey.
Ireland deserve credit for much of what they did, and criticism for some things too. Once again their concession of penalties was a problem as a count of 14-6 in England’s favour shows.
And there were times when they worked themselves to within striking distance of the English line but Ireland failed to make those visits deep into the hosts’ 22 count.
On the plus side it was impressive to see how they responded when, in the 71st minute, they slipped into arrears for the first time in the match.
Having lost skipper Brian O’Driscoll six minutes earlier when Paul O’Connell’s knee banged into his head, the concession of the drop goal which put England 16-3 up was a massive double whammy.
Here Declan Kidney earned his wages, both for his tactical nous and his man-management skills, for four of those he introduced
from the bench — O’Gara, Leo Cullen, both of whom he had dropped, Shane Jennings and Eoin Reddan — figured prominently in the creation of a superb match-winning try by Bowe.
O’Gara’s conversion meant a penalty or drop goal was no good to England.
In between Bowe’s brace, Ireland’s other winger, Keith Earls, went over for a 55th minute score after a well-worked move.
With the pack applying the pressure and recycling the ball close to the line, half-backs Tomas O’Leary and Sexton picked the lock with two slick passes and Earls was in.
England responded five minutes later with a video-confirmed try by tighthead Dan Cole to reward good work by his pack, with Wilkinson converting to tie the scores at 13-13.
Tense, dramatic, passionate, exciting, bruising.
So a blip in Paris? Probably; this team isn’t a spent force just yet.