Ireland 14 England 13.
The historical case for revenge was completed late on Saturday evening — England will never win a rugby match at Croke Park. A brilliant performance from captain Brian O’Driscoll inspired Ireland to the narrowest of wins in the last North Dublin clash between the pair in the Six Nations Rugby Championship.
The next time England come to town they will be welcomed to the new look Lansdowne Road — or the Aviva Stadium as the marketeers prefer to call it. By then, two years down the road from a game where the result was more memorable than the fare, O’Driscoll should be a Grand Slam winning captain.
He took another huge step in that direction on Saturday, almost singlehandedly dragging Ireland to victory and the result that leaves them just two wins, against Scotland and Wales, away from a first Grand Slam in 61 years.
A dour game — the sides were level to a penalty each from the misfiring Ronan O’Gara and Toby Flood at the break — was rescued from the mediocre only by Dricco’s brilliance. He managed a drop goal and a great push over try in the second half before England threatened to spoil it all when a late Deon Armitage try came just too late to inspire an away win that was coming with every minute as the final whistle drew nearer.
“The ending was a little nerve-wracking. We made it harder for ourselves than we needed to, conceding when we did near the end,” confessed a delighted O’Driscoll. “But we played it out and won. We didn’t stress ourselves, just did what we needed to. There were a few opportunities out there. That was one of the more physical matches I’ve played in a long, long time.
“England have been in three World Cup finals and are a huge team to beat. We enjoy winning against them because we know how hard it is.
“It wasn’t the perfect performance but we’re happy to have beaten England, albeit by one point.”
Coach Declan Kidney and back row star Jamie Heaslip led the praise for O’Driscoll, now a Lions certainty and maybe even a potential captain.
“I’m delighted for Brian. He works hard. Sometimes you look at him when he goes down injured and say, for God’s sake, get up Brian!” said Kidney.
“I know what he went through to get himself out on the pitch as he had bit of a hamstring strain during the week. He’s gone about his business greatly. He can defend that outside centre channel very well.
“Every team’s defence has become so good that there’s less and less space for outside centres. It’s a tactical thing. “Brian is a big player for us and our captain but is playing well in a team that is going well. It can be manic with Brian. One day people say he’s way off and the next day say he’s not. But rugby is a team game.”
O’Driscoll was the subject of some roughhouse attention from an indisciplined England who had both Phil Vickery and sub Danny Care sinbinned at crucial stages in the second half. Vickery’s punishment and the subsequent penalty cost them dear as it resulted in O’Driscoll’s try after huge pressure from the home team.
“Brian’s try was hugely satisfying, especially the way we took them through the phases, just pick and go, pick and go, keeping them in close. That was fairly rewarding, even though a back got it!” said Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip.
“He had a great game today. I wasn’t surprised he got man of the match. He took some serious knocks, got back up and stepped up to the plate again. It’s just testament to the player that he is, I suppose.”
Both coach and captain played down talk of a Grand Slam after the third win in three RBS Six Nations games this season with Scotland, at Murrayfield on Saturday, March 14, and Wales the week later to come. “Nothing has changed for us,” insisted O’Driscoll at the post game press conference.
As Kidney laughed alongside him, O’Driscoll added, “We will give Scotland exactly the same respect now as we have given France, Italy and now England in the three championship games to date.
“Other people will talk of Grand Slams but not us. For us it is all about the next game. I have played over in Murrayfield on a number of times and I know it is a tough place to go. “The thing about this competition is that any team is capable of beating any other team in it.”
Kidney looked on in appreciation as O’Driscoll rolled out the party line. “I am only a novice at this level, but every game we play in this championship it gets harder,” stressed Kidney. “The last time we played at Murrayfield was just before the World Cup finals in 2007 and that wasn’t such a good day for us.
“Scotland will be licking their lips at the prospect of playing us. They had a good win on Saturday against Italy, they scored a lot of points and they have a lot of info on us in house.”
O’Gara held his hands up in the dressingroom and admitted to an off-day with the boot. The Munster out-half, coached by Kidney since he was a 14-year-old schoolboy, scored just six points from four attempts at goal against England.
Some critics questioned whether or not he should have stayed on the pitch for the 80 minutes, but Kidney saw other aspects to O’Gara’s game that were commendable.
“I’ve got an awful lot to say for Ronan. He missed those penalties but never retreated into his shell,” said Kidney.
Ireland: Kearney, Bowe, B. O’Driscoll, P. Wallace, Fitzgerald, O’Gara, O’Leary, Horan, Flannery, Hayes, O’Callaghan, O’Connell, Ferris, D. Wallace, Heaslip. Replacements: Stringer for O’Leary (65), Best for Flannery (68), Leamy for Heaslip (68). England: D. Armitage, Sackey, Tindall, Flutey, Cueto, Flood, Ellis, Sheridan, Mears, Vickery, Borthwick, Kennedy, Haskell, Worsley, Easter. Replacements: Tait for Sackey (57), Goode for Flood (66), Care for Ellis (58), White for Sheridan (77), Hartley for Mears (66), Croft for Kennedy (69), Narraway for Easter (76). Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa).