Ireland bring England back down to earth
SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: Ireland dashed England's hopes of bagging another Grand Slam and a tier-one nation world record with a 13-9 win in Dublin on Saturday.
The giant on his beanstalk must have started shaking as Jack Murphy laid into the beanstalk with an insistent axe, until he came tumbling down - still a giant and still a king but without a Triple Crown, without a Grand Slam and without a world record of successive victories.
But that giant that is England knows that it has basked in the glory of remarkable year of 18 successive victories, equalling the best the All Blacks have achieved. It has been a wonderful phoenix act after the 2015 World Cup.
As with the All Blacks, the giant killer was the Irish, the determined, intent men from the Emerald Isle - the same giant killer with the same relentless tactics.
Their set pieces were excellent, their post-tackle play precise and their tackling filled with devastating passion. And they did it for the whole match.
Perhaps St Patrick looked down with a proud smile and extended his feast day by one day.
In those last seconds, with England pinned in their 22, the crowd sang The Fields of Athenry, a song about English injustice to the Irish with louder voice than ever before. There could be some broken heads in Dublin this evening. The brown water of the Liffey with its creamy top may just run dry!
The ground in Lansdowne Road was expected to be greasy after the rain during the week and the misty drizzle in the morning. And late in the match rain came down hard. Nobody took the least bit of notice and nothing happened in the match that suggested that the conditions were difficult.
There was an accident in the warm-up which may have been a happy fault for Ireland. Jamie Heaslip turned an ankle and Peter O'Mahony came off the bench to flank with CJ Stander sliding back to No.8. O'Mahony was a star. Through his efforts Ireland won the line-outs where England were expected to rule. He won ball after ball for his side and contested England's throws to win their ball (twice) and make their delivery less smooth.
Ireland scored the only try of the match. They were also the first to come close. Jonny Sexton kicked an up-'n-under to his right and Jared Payne beat Mike Brown and sent Keith Earls racing towards the line. Earls lost the ball and the referee, who was playing advantage, went back to a penalty where Joe Launchbury had been offside. Sexton goaled and Ireland led 3-0 after 9 minutes.
It was then that captain Rory Best went off for a head injury assessment, which he passed and was able to return to the match.
Ireland were penalised at a tackle and Owen Farrell goaled. 3-all after 17 minutes.
There was an unsettling incident when tall Maro Itoje thumped into Sexton after the flyhalf had passed. It hurt Sexton and it seemed that throughout the match he was a target. At one stage Best went to the referee and asked for greater awareness of unfair tactics against his flyhalf.
Itoje was penalised and Ireland attacked, getting closer and closer to the England line. When England were penalised eight metres from their line, Ireland eschewed the kick at goal and instead kicked out for a five-metre line-out. They mauled and Henderson burst ahead, stretched and score, the try confirmed after consultation with the TMO. Athenry sounded for the first time when Sexton's conversion made it 10-3 after 23 minutes.
Earls, given an overlap, had a good sprint down the right but half-time came with the score 10-3.
Jack McGrath moved obviously offside at a tackle/ruck and Farrell made it 10-6 after 50 minutes and Payne, so delicate looking and so elusive, had a sharp run.
Substitutions started happening after 55 minutes when Ian George came on for Dylan Hartley and Cian Healy for McGrath and Tom Wood for James Haskell.
Itoje went off side and Sexton goaled. 13-6 after 62 minutes. Ireland were penalised at a maul and Farrell made it 13-9 after 66 minutes, and that is how the score remained.
It may have been scoreless but, heavens, it was agonisingly exciting and the game's 80 minutes flew away, well, 78 of the 80 minutes as the last two minutes dragged on.
There were about 90 seconds left when Luke McGrath, a rooky scrumhalf at this level, kicked a wonderful kick to touch well inside the England 22. England knew they had to score and ran from inside their 22. They worked their way upfield and reached their own 10-metre line when Brown knocked on and the referee blew the final whistle.
Ireland was gleeful but England had the consolation of being presented with the Six Nations Cup.
Man of the Match: It is a not unreasonable temptation to nominate all 23 Irish players, for they were all heroes on the day, but we should probably whittle it down to Rory Best, Jonathan Sexton and our Man of the Match Peter O'Mahony, the late selection who played with such effective skill and courage right to the end. His were the line-outs and a lot besides.
Moment of the Match: Ian Henderson's try - the only try with the final whistle a close second.
Villain of the Match: If anybody set any English player to target Jonathan Sexton by foul means, that would be the only possible Villain of the Match.
Pens: Sexton 2
Pens: Farrell 3
Ireland: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Jamie Heaslip, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Andrew Conway.
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te'o, 23 Jack Nowell.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)