Ireland left England's Grand Slam hopes in tatters when Martin Johnson's side were on the wrong side of a 24-8 hiding at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. For Declan Kidney, it is the prefect end to a somewhat disappointing Six Nations Championship and now looks to August when they take on Scotland, England and France twice before they begin their World Cup campaign against Eddie O' Sullivan and the United States in September.
English Indiscipline six minutes in set Ireland on their way with a Jonathan Sexton penalty. The referee adjudging the England to be offside and Sexton made no mistake to give Ireland a 3-0 lead. There was no sign of the shaky kicking that saw Sexton miss a penalty late in the game against Wales last week and Sexton added a second penalty 10 metres inside the left hand touchline, just outside the English 22 to edge Ireland to a 6-0 margin after 13 minutes.
On 20 minutes it looked as if Brian O'Driscol had crossed over and in doing so become the tournaments all time highest try scorer, with 25 tries but the touch judge said the pass that sent him clear was forward. The referee called play back however for an English infringement and Sexton made it 3/3 to send Ireland into a 9-0 lead.
And Ireland grew from there. Following a fluffed effort from Toby Flood in front of the posts Ireland burst clear. First Paul O' Connell, and then Donncha O' Callaghan kicked on to the English five metre line before England cleared. The clearance only found Jaime Heaslip who ran at the English defense. When Ireland recycled the referee blew for offside giving Sexton the free kick on the English 22. A quick tap from Sexton followed and the Leinster outhalf found Tommy Bowe who stepped inside the English defense to touch down left of the posts. Sexton's conversion shaved the wrong side of the left post, but Ireland were well deserving of their 14-0 lead on 27 minutes.
Flood made up for his earlier miss on the half hour when he split the posts from 45 metres and after England's scrum half Ben Young was sin binned for throwing the ball into the crowd, Sexton kicked the penalty to stretch Ireland's lead to 17-3.
Ireland were cruising at this stage and could have been further in front after a Trimble break from the restart resulted in an Ireland scrum 30 metres from the English line. Heaslip took the ball off the back of the scrum and passed outside to O'Connell who in turn found Wallace on his shoulder who raced for the line. As the Irish support debated whether or not he had touched down or not, it was the referee again who called play back for another forward pass, this time from O' Connell to Wallace. A relieved England kicked the ball into touch from the resulting scrum to bring an electric first half to an end.
Ireland began the second half as they finished the first, laying siege to the England line, and it was only a matter of time before theta crossed the English line again. They didn't have to wait long as on 45 minutes crossed the whitewash for the second time. Eoin Reddan found Brian O' Driscoll off the back of the ruck and the Irish captain popped the ball back for Sexton who fed O'Callaghan and when his pass failed to go to hand, the opportunity seemed lost.
But O'Driscoll isn't one of the world's most talented players for nothing and the centre gathered and dived for the corner to become all time leading try scorer with 25 tournament tries. Sexton added the conversion from the touchline to put Ireland into a 24-3 lead England would not come close to.
But to England's credit, they found themselves back in the game when Reddan's pass following an Irish lineout found Steve Thompson, and the substitute prop raced clear to touch down with fellow substitute Johnny Wilkinson missing the conversion to close to the gap to 24-8 with 54 minutes played. Ireland never really regained the composure and fluidity that saw them dominate England in the opening 50 minutes after that with both sides failing to get into any real rhythm.
As Ireland seemed happy to keep England at bay with stout defending, Irish coach Declan Kidney had the luxury of withdrawing Sexton for Ronan O'Gara, whose kicking to the corners pinned England back inside their own 22 when they looked to have broken the Irish
With the game inching closer and England's Grand Slam ambitions in tatters, Ireland came closest to scoring. Keith Earls received the ball on his own ten metre line and although it seemed he had the legs on the English defenders he opted to take the ball into contact rather than kick on and the attack fizzled out. In the end Ireland kicked to touch to the rapturous applause of the Irish faithful. An incredible performance by Ireland, and one they will hope will spur on their World Cup hopes at the end of the year.
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