Sweet Chariot carries it off

Photo by Gary Burke

By Kathrin Kobus

It was a triple whammy regarding adversaries:  New Zealand v Australia, alias Schmidt & Jones or simply Ireland v England in round one of the Six Nations.

Ireland flying high in confidence after the autumn series and second in the world rankings had plans to defend their title from last year. From bat phoning the referee, spy tales, nearby training camps in Portugal and rumours of who was injured, how badly and how far back on the way to possible recovery.

Mind games from both sides had hit a high. Right until the team announcement on Thursday, when Ireland selected Robbie Henshaw at 15, and England had Jack Nowell as “ninth forward” on their team sheet. It seemed everybody – fans, officials and sponsors – went into that game with high expectations for a quality rugby game.

Only one side delivered though and unfortunately for the IRFU it wasn’t the hosts. The highly anticipated battle between Ireland and England quite simply didn’t happen. Or it was stymied with the first try of the game after Keith Earls broke the defence line and gifted England their first try after just 90 seconds when Johnny May went over at Ireland’s right corner flag.

Ireland never truly recovered from that early shock of being behind and seemed frozen with fear instead of confidence. England, meanwhile, played a composed and controlled game plan; not even a ten-minute bin break for Tom Curry after a tackle on Earls helped Rory Best and his team.

If anything, it looked as if Ireland were the ones with only 14 players. A Sexton penalty saw Ireland getting on the scoreboard with three points after 10 minutes, but it would take another twenty minutes of the clock before Cian Healy went over for the first try. Sexton converted with ease.

Now, the Irish fans had hope that everything might take a turn for the better and Ireland would show what they are made of. Instead, the lead lasted for all but 85 seconds before Daly thanked Stockdale’s hot-potato handling of the ball.

From then on it was plain sailing for the English team. Halftime 10:17 after Farrell added another three points with a penalty. Personnel changes for the next 40 minutes did not improve Ireland’s performance. It got quiet around the Aviva stadium, only the hovering helicopters were audible.

One more time Johnathan Sexton got the chance for a penalty and didn’t miss. But the vibe, the energy that drove the green team during the autumn series was missing. And between the 66th and 75th minute England brought home the victory, two tries from Slade plus another penalty high between the posts; and the scoreboard showed what no Irish fan wanted to see.

England was winning for the first time in six years at the Aviva stadium 32:13, and two minutes left on the clock. But there is always a silver lining and that came with John Cooney, who got his first few minutes in the Six Nations. In that short time span, he showed what his teammates had apparently forgotten that afternoon.

Alert to Cronin play, he was fed the ball and left the English players standing, for the first time during the game, crossing over for the consolation try that Sexton converted. England will face France in round two, while Ireland will travel to Scotland and Italy in February before France comes to the Aviva on March 10th. The final weekend of the Six Nations sees Ireland in Cardiff on the 16th of March.  England and Scotland will conclude the tournament on St Patrick’s Day in Twickenham.