Tommy Bowe touched down twice before Jamie Heaslip fittingly put one of his showy yellow boots to ball to signal victory, as Ireland ended England's Grand Slam hopes at a sodden Twickenham last night. While the British & Lions duo of Bowe and Keith Earls contributed their side's three tries, the defensive effort led by Heaslip, the giant No 8, was the cornerstone of a famous triumph for the away side.
Victory was sweet for the Irish, following on as it did from a thrashing in France, and maintained their own Triple Crown and Six Nations hopes. Ever since that 33-10 reverse against the French, Ireland had been beset by problems. Brian O'Driscoll, their captain, had battled an illness that even prevented him from attending the obligatory pre-match press conference. The veteran centre is regarded as a talismanic presence in Ireland, so the fact he lined up for the start was a major morale boost. Yet, with young talent such as Heaslip and Johnny Sexton, the fly-half, now blooming, they have confirmed they are far from a one-man team.
Sexton, set up the opening score in the fourth minute, when he sent a perfectly weighted grubber through for Bowe to flop on in the corner. Even before the conversion had been missed, the home side's problems had doubled, with Simon Shaw, the veteran lock, being forced off through injury. Jonny Wilkinson, whose position was questioned after an indifferent performance - not least with the boot - against Italy last time out, hit his opening shot at goal against a post. Despite that setback, he betrayed few nerves when he did eventually get England on the scoreboard shortly after from the kicking tee.
He and Sexton traded penalties as the rain lashed Twickenham, and the Irish had an 8-6 lead at the interval, which was just reward for the control they had on proceedings. They extended their advantage with a second try after the break after being gifted prime field position following a brawl initiated by the opposing No 9s, England's Danny Care and Tomas O'Leary of Ireland. Mark Lawrence, the South African referee, censured Care for "taking the law into his own hands", and thus reversed his original decision to grant a penalty to the home side. Care's misdemeanor might have provoked a more vengeful act of retribution of its own. Martin Johnson, the England team manager, has famously lost his temper after Care indiscretions before.
The former World Cup-winning captain nearly thumped a hole in the bench in front of his vantage point at Twickenham back then, and would probably have lined up his impish scrum-half had England not fought back here. From the ensuing spell of pressure, Sexton laid on the pass for Earls to score Ireland's second try. Care was almost immediately reprieved, however, as England answered with a try of their own when Dan Cole, the 22-year-old Leicester Tigers prop, burrowed over to the right of the posts. Wilkinson could not miss from there, but his errant radar was back on the blink soon after when he had the chance to put England into the lead for the first time. He blazed his effort wide, however.
England were enjoying their best spell of the match, and Wilkinson earned a moral victory when Sexton was replaced by Ronan O'Gara, who was tasked with guiding the flagging Irish back into the game. O'Gara had barely even had a touch when Wilkinson landed a trademark drop goal to put the hosts 16-13 up, but their lead was short-lived as Bowe broke through their defensive line to add the decisive try.