Well, maybe, just maybe, my predictions are going to turn out right after all! Four teams all on four points after three games, and after yesterday England might be on a roll.
13-10 doesn’t sound like an exciting score. But it was a genuinely enthralling game, with two excellent teams slugging it out for supremacy. Both going for it throughout, with a good mix of kicking and running. Two packs of forwards evenly matched and two awesome defences.
At half time it was only 3-0 to England (courtesy of a huge penalty kick from Owen Farrell), but it had been forty minutes of end-to-end action, with both sides failing to capitalise on their overlap opportunities. England came closest to a try, when Jonny May got over the line, but let the ball slip from his hand at the last moment. It felt like a costly error, if error is the right word. He did have two Irishmen descending on him…
Ireland came out in the second half on fire and scored a brilliant try. A crafty offload to full back Rob Kearney allowed him to find gap in the English defence and he scorched through it. They’d scored a penalty too, so suddenly it was 10-3 to Ireland. At this moment I thought back to how Ireland had trounced Wales two weeks ago and was on the verge of accepting that this might just be a valiant defeat for a young English team against the hardened veterans of Ireland. A learning experience.
But I was wrong. England now have a never-say-die spirit. Farrell scored a penalty and then, after Jonny Sexton inexplicably kicked out of touch from the restart, England fashioned a try similar to, but even better than Ireland’s. A try made at Harlequins, I’m pleased to say. From the scrum, Chris Robshaw played link man and offloaded to Mike Brown, who exploited a gap in the Irish defence. Off he went and just as he was tackled he spun a pass to Danny Care who had gone with him. No-one was going to catch Danny and he scored between the posts. Farrell converted and it was 13-10.
There was still a quarter of the game to go, but no more scores. From an English perspective this was encouraging, because it showed they could close down a game, after failing to do just that against the French. From an Irish point of view it must have been frustrating because they were on top at the end.
Naturally I’m looking from the England angle, and this was a very important win. Ireland looked really good against Wales, the champions from the previous two years, and England beat them in a real head-to-head struggle. Afterwards, coach Stuart Lancaster, deemed it the most important win under his charge.
Mike Brown was again man of the match. Thoroughly deserved. His catching under pressure was impeccable, his breaks out of defence uplifting for the team and the crowd, and decisive that one time. His commitment and tackling exceptional. But he was not alone. The other full back, Rob Kearney, also had an outstanding game. For England, it’s unfair really to single out players, but the two second rowers, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes were immense. If ever England secured a turnover, you would see the baby-face of Launchbury looking up from the bottom of the pile. And Lawes, having cut out the element of recklessness from his tackling (which hurt him as much as the opposition) is the ultimate marauder. Launchbury even managed to turn himself into a flanker towards the end when Tom Wood limped off.
So, the bookies have England 6-4 to win the championship now, with Ireland 2-1 and Wales and France 6-1. (Wales gave a disappointing France a bit of a hammering at the Millenium stadium on Friday). I suspect this is just the weight of English money. Wales remain the team that supplied the backbone and more of the Lions in Australia, and will be up for it when they clash with England in the next game. Anything could happen, but I’ll keep my money on England for now!
(Photos from Google Images)