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World-class Ireland wilt England's Six Nations rose in style

RBS Six Nations: Ireland 19 - England 9

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

This was a statement from Ireland about their place in the world.

Victory over England might set up a Grand Slam, but such a comprehensive dismantling of the World Cup hosts sent out a message about what Joe Schmidt's side could achieve in 2015.

Here were the two best international teams in Europe playing a high-quality, up-tempo game and going toe to toe for an exhilarating 80 minutes and it was the home side who looked further along in their development and more capable of achieving great things when autumn comes around.

Stuart Lancaster pointed out that Ireland had kicked the ball 44 times repeatedly. The England coach said he knew exactly what was coming from Ireland, yet his team were powerless to stop it.

Although the aerial dominance accounted for much of what was good about the champions' display, there was far more strings to their bow this time around as they recorded their 10th successive win, equalling an Irish record set in 2003.

The entire team operated with a type of controlled frenzy that must be so hard to achieve without crossing the line. They hunted in packs, playing with huge intensity but rarely overstepping the mark and holding their discipline throughout.

There was no attempt by the coach or his captain to play this one down. If there is room to improve, that will be addressed when they re-assemble in Belfast this week, but for once the perfectionist was almost satisfied with his team's performance.

"For once, I didn't have my heart in my mouth," Schmidt said of the endgame.

"I'm not going to think about going forward for another 24 hours. I'm just going to enjoy this. We're a grounded bunch, but at the same time you do get a little bit excited.

"It's exciting to have beaten England, it's exciting to be in the position we are in. I am certainly just going to enjoy this."

Ireland started like a train, stating their intent when Simon Zebo caught George Ford's kick-off and headed infield. Within minutes, Jonny Sexton was kicking his first penalty. The tone had been set.

The enormity of the occasion seemed to infect England with a wave of indiscipline and the home side were only too happy to use penalties as an access point to attack.

Sexton and Conor Murray's kicking put the back three under pressure, with Zebo and Tommy Bowe excellent on the chase and Jack Nowell's failure to deal with a well-placed bomb meant Alex Goode was forced to concede a five-metre scrum.

From there, Robbie Henshaw and Jack McGrath had initial goes at the line, but ultimately Rory Best's attempt to score was held up. Ireland went again and, although the tryline wouldn't be breached, Sexton got to double the lead after another Haskell indiscretion.

Ireland were playing with huge intensity with Sexton leading the defensive line and putting pressure on young pretender George Ford who nailed a drop-goal to get his side off the mark after the visitors' first foray into Irish territory.

Jordi Murphy was terrorising them at the breakdown, while McGrath was making inroads with ball in hand and Henshaw's carrying and tackling was doing huge damage. The brilliant half-backs peppered the English back three with contestable kicks and Zebo and Bowe caused havoc.

Still, the scoreboard wasn't quite ticking along to match the performance and, when Sean O'Brien carried hard at Ford and came off the worst with a head injury, it could have been a real blow.

Instead, Tommy O'Donnell carried on where the Tullow man left off, even running a play with one of his first touches.

The game plan was varied and Schmidt showed off far more of his box of tricks than he has to date.

Ireland were far more disciplined than their opponents who were lucky to survive with 15 men. They went 9-3 in front through another Sexton penalty after 21 minutes, but failed to add to their total despite a dominant second quarter.

Schmidt's side refused to panic and the Sexton nudged them outside a converted try with his fourth penalty after Chris Robshaw came from the side, but the coup de grace was still to come.

It started with a Zebo chase, the winger nailing Anthony Watson and his team-mates following up with a turnover from the ruck.

This time, Ireland wouldn't be denied and after a Sexton wraparound saw England drift offside, Murray dinked the ball over the top for Henshaw to beat Goode in the air and brilliantly touch down his first try for Ireland.

Sexton nailed the touchline conversion, but tweaked his hamstring doing so.

Ford capitalised on a collapsed scrum and Peter O'Mahony going off his feet to narrow the gap to 10, but while they piled on the pressure in the closing stages, they couldn't make it count.

England did cross the line in the last play, but Nowell's try was ruled out for a forward pass. It was immaterial. Ireland had held out and made a little bit of history in a year that is promising to be one to remember.

Belfast Telegraph


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