Six Nations 2004
Ireland secure sweet victory over England
March 6, 2004
Girvan Dempsey dives past Ben Cohe to score
© Getty Images
It was the longest day, but the sweetest one Irish rugby has known for some time.
Ten years of indifferent performances and much flailing at the feet of their English superiors came to an end for a resurgent Ireland this afternoon at Twickenham, as they finally believed they could beat the World champions England and duly did as they held on for a 19-13 to spread eagle the Six Nations Championship back open.
The home side's first defeat in South West London since 1999 and first Six Nations defeat there for seven years, saw England hang on in with Paul Grayson's 51st minute penalty, their only score of the second half, and a couple of late chips and charges at the Irish line but Ireland held firm to upset the bookies' 8/1 odds.
Full back Girvan Dempsey's overlap try on 53 minutes came at a crucial time, and so too did out half Ronan O'Gara's decision to miss his first penalty kick from 15 metres to go on and produce his best ever display in a green shirt. Allied to the reinforced axis of a supreme lineout, Ireland built further on their performance of two weeks ago against Wales, to outdo an off colour English Rose.
It will be hard to sum up how Ireland's players are feeling right now, and some of the green supporters who parted with €1000 for a Twickenham seat and a place in rugby history. A first Triple Crown since 1985 looks manageable for Eddie O'Sullivan's charges, with England's proposed championship decider in Paris at the end of the month floating down the Seine.
England took a long time to boil, indeed it was with 31 minutes before they had their first concerted period camped inside the Irish 22', as O'Gara unbelievably began the game with his clipped effort coming off England's left upright.
Ireland brought great variation to their half back game, and after Peter Stringer had wrestled Steve Thompson into touch on 15 minutes, a well-judged Malcolm O'Kelly lineout saw English prop Trevor Woodman bring down the maul and O'Gara put the Irish on the board, 3-0, from the left side and 25 metres out.
Scrum half Stringer prevented a certain try six minutes later when ankle-tapping Jason Robinson in full flight on the Irish ten-metre line before Richard Hill went offside on 24 minutes and O'Gara stretched Ireland's lead to six.
Out of nothing, England were brought kicking and screaming back into the match. They took the lead just before the half hour when Stringer was caught by Lawrence Dallaglio off a open field scrum, Hill hacked forward and Grayson collected and sent the returning number 9 Matt Dawson over with Northampton Saint Grayson converting.
The English number 10 punished Leinster captain Reggie Corrigan for collapsing a scrum under his own posts on 31 minutes, but critically for the Irish cause, O'Gara was allowed two further shots at the target and ended the half with four from five, with efforts from 30 metres-plus on 33 and 40 minutes.
Left wing Ben Cohen was found guilty of a double movement as he attempted to step up the English challenge with a quick dart at the Irish line barely sixty seconds after the restart, but Ireland's 12-10 half time lead was strengthened when Dempsey, receiver of much criticism this season for province and country, was on the end of a left to right Irish move inside the England 22', taking Tyrone Howe's short pass, after skipper Brian O'Driscoll's lobbed ball had skipped out the English midfield.
O'Gara's conversion pushed Ireland's lead to nine points but predictably they wilted a little in the final straight. To their credit, England continually probed for a score with substitute Mark Regan almost grounding the ball before being pushed into touch.
Grayson added a penalty to make the score 19-13 but despite some late pressure, England could not break down Mike Ford's well-drilled Irish defence and the Viking helmet and plaudits were Ireland's.