Updated: Saturday, 22 Feb 2014 19:01 | Comments
By Micil Glennon in Twickenham
Ireland’s Grand Slam dream died in Twickenham after a pulsating 13-10 defeat to England.
The hosts led at half-time thanks to a solitary penalty from Owen Farrell.
Fullback Rob Kearney gave Ireland the lead at the start of the second half when he finished a slick move under the under the posts.
Johnny Sexton added a conversion and a penalty, but England fought back and Danny Care’s converted try, added to another Farrell three-pointer, gave Stuart Lancaster’s side a lead they would not relinquish.
Despite defeat, the championship is still up for grabs and looks set to come down to an intriguing set of final-round matches on 15 March.
The smoke from the pre-match fireworks had barely evaporated when what must have been one of the most eagerly anticipated scrum contests ever got up and running.
From the kick-off, England caught Ireland at their own game, holding up a maul and preventing a clean presentation: scrum England.
But Ireland got the shove on and referee Craig Joubert gave the decision to the visitors. The torment of Twickenham two years ago appeared consigned to history, and forwards coach John Plumtree’s work shone for the rest of the tie. The anticipated problems caused by the absence of prop Dan Cole came to fruition.
From a lineout Brian O’Driscoll made a yard of space outside Billy Twelvetrees but the move broke down inside the England ’22.
Keen to dictate the pace, England took a quick lineout and found themselves inside the Ireland danger zone after Mike Brown skipped past Rory Best in midfield.
Care fed a queue of runners but each time they were repelled, Chris Henry and Jamie Heaslip first up for tackles.
But England’s extremely economical rucks eventually paid dividends and May, playing on the left wing in number only, went over in the right corner.
Farrell prepared for the conversion and the rest of the Red Rose moved back to halfway only for the TMO, Jim Yuille of Scotland, to rule that a combination of Andrew Trimble and Conor Murray had dislodged the ball before touchdown. The pattern, however, was established.
Sexton then kicked Ireland deep into England territory; a cross kick found the arms of Trimble, who fed Rob Kearney, who was stopped short of the line, before Ireland were eventually penalised for holding on.
Twenty minutes had passed in a flash and when Ireland were pinged for not rolling away, England had another welcome platform from which to attack.
But Joe Schmidt’s men, as against Scotland and Wales, held their nerve and tackle after tackle within ten metres of the line repelled the English centres before an error allowed the Irish to clear.
However, England were to land the first blow, winning two penalties in a row, the first awarded to Joe Launchbury doing a Peter O’Mahony impersonation at a ruck, and presenting Farrell with a shot from just inside his own half, from which the 22-year-old Saracen made no mistake.
It might have been harsh on the table toppers had he doubled that lead in the 34th minute when another penalty hit the post.
Schmidt, overseeing his first test away from Dublin, would have prepared his side for a typical full-blooded first-half onslaught so a three-point deficit at the break, despite no scores on the board, might have been taken, if offered beforehand.
Ireland were playing well with ball in hand, with D’Arcy lying deep and helping to create space for Sexton on the loop.
O’Driscoll, too, took some monitoring and nearly escaped his tacklers on a couple of occasions.
The excellent positioning of the English back three of May, Brown and Jack Nowell prevented a number of promising scenarios for Ireland developing into something more valuable.
However, it took just two minutes of the second half for the 2009 champions to take the bare look off their score-sheet.
Heaslip took a short pass from Murray, who in turn fed Rob Kearney, running on a delicious angle, and the Leinster man sped past Brown from ’22 yards to touch down under the posts. Sexton added the conversion.
The Racing Metro stand-off extended the lead with a penalty moments later and Ireland led by seven in the 47th minute.
But 10 minutes later the home side had regained the momentum and the lead.
First Farrell reduced the deficit with a close-range penalty after Courtney Lawes and Joe Marler were held up under the posts, illegally judged the South African referee.
The move that ultimately decided the game was executed in Twickenham but born down the road in the Harlequins Stoop.
Taking the ball in midfield, captain Chris Robshaw laid the ball off perfectly to club team-mate Brown, who left a static green line in his wake.
The full-back made it up to the ’22 before offloading to another Harlequins man, Care, who sped in under the posts to a thunderous roar from most of the 81,555 present and left the press box shaking.
Ireland did manage to work promising positions after that but were guilty of over-elaboration, with O’Driscoll, making a record-equalling 139th Test appearance, and Murray complicating passing.
A maul, set up from open play by the hard-working Best, edged towards the England line, but a wall of white managed to stop the advance.
Ireland were forced to run from deep with time running out but Robshaw and his men, with title hopes of their own, stood tall and held on.
The championship is now wide open with four teams, Ireland, England, Wales and France, all having suffered one defeat each and on four points apiece.
Ireland will look to do a professional job when they meet Italy in two weeks time before hoping that other results combine with a win in Paris, last achieved in 2000 courtesy of an O’Driscoll hat-trick, to help them claim the Six Nations crown.