May 23, 2013
Rampant Irish end England's grand slam hopes
England were crowned Six Nations champions for the first time in eight years but they were denied a grand slam when Ireland outplayed them comprehensively to secure a thumping 24-8 win.
Ireland took their stranglehold on the English to seven wins in eight as they put a poor tournament behind them to play some of their best rugby in years, taking control early on thanks to a first half Tommy Bowe try and the steady boot of Jonathan Sexton.
Captain Brian O'Driscoll also broke the championship try scoring record and a shellshocked England -- who only managed a second half try from replacement hooker Steve Thompson -- had to settle for the not inconsiderable consolation of their first title since 2003.
England, who won their last grand slam in Dublin with a resounding 42-6 victory eight years ago, looked more like the team that had performed poorly in successive championships since, but in truth, a rampant Irish team gave them no chance.
The hosts more closely resembled the Irish side who were the 2009 grand slam champions, pinning England back inside their half from the word go with flyhalf Sexton slotting two penalties inside the first 15 minutes.
Ireland were playing the kind of high tempo rugby they had struggled to find in the past two years and O'Driscoll thought he had broken Ian Smith's 78-year-old championship try scoring record midway through the first period.
The score was ruled out for a forward pass but Sexton added an easy penalty before his opposite number Toby Flood missed a simple one of his own, though he wasn't helped when the stadium announcer began to call a substitution as he got ready to kick.
Within a minute, Ireland had their try after second rows Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan both hacked on before a quick tap penalty from man-of-the-match Sexton put wing Bowe in for his 17th international try.
Flood finally got England on the board five minutes before the break but Sexton quickly cancelled out the penalty with his own three pointer after England scrumhalf Ben Youngs was sin binned for throwing the ball away.
That was to be Youngs' last action of the game and he was replaced by Danny Care -- yellow carded for a similarly stupid offence in Dublin two years ago -- as soon as his 10 minutes in the bin were up.
Yet just as they had stood up against New Zealand in a tough defeat last November, the hosts continued to rise to the big occasion and O'Driscoll finally had his moment, touching down in the corner after 47 minutes.
Ireland made their first and only misstep shortly after when Thompson easily read Irish number nine Eoin Reddan's pass to trudge over for a try that fellow replacement and the only other 2003 grand slam survivor Johnny Wilkinson was unable to convert.
Both sides had half chances as the rain teemed down in the closing quarter before Ireland left the field feeling a mixture of relief and jubilation, having received a much needed confidence booster ahead of September's World Cup.
"Today we played a smart game and an intense game and they couldn't live with us," said O'Driscoll.
"We said at halftime we wanted to put them to the sword and to score 24 points against this team is impressive and we're very happy to finish the Six Nations the way we have."
On his individual landmark, the centre said: "It's great, I'm very honoured. Seventy eight years is a long time to hold the record but hopefully there's a bit more rugby in me yet."
After starting so well against Wales and Italy, England lost momentum against France, struggled past Scotland and were blown away by the Irish.
"We had a horrible, horrible first half where we did everything you talk about not doing when you're away from home," said England manager Martin Johnson.
"We compounded errors, we knocked balls on. Pressure's the name of the game. We got a lot of guys doing this for the first time - not a grand slam decider but playing a full championship.
"They're a savvy team, they are full of pride and have a lot of experience. We got it very wrong today. They outplayed us and they deserved to win."
Speaking later after France's victory over Wales guaranteed England the title, stand-in captain Nick Easter said: "We missed out on the big one today but we've got some sort of reward for the strides we've made this season.
"Today was another learning curve and you are going to need that in a big year with a big tournament at the end of it."