Six Nations 2001
Ireland rain on English parade
October 20, 2001
England pose with the 2001 Six Nations trophy despite defeat to Ireland
© Getty Images
Keith Wood's jolly green Irish giants broke England's hearts at Lansdowne Road this afternoon with a stunning Six Nations performance.
The Ireland skipper scored his side's only try as Ireland completed a Celtic hat-trick by pouring more Grand Slam torment on England.
At Wembley in 1999 England fell at the final hurdle to Wales, in 2000 they succumbed to Scotland in the howling gale at Murrayfield.
Today they made it a triple crown of Grand Slam failure when they blinked once more at the finishing tape. And, while losing two Grand Slams might be deemed careless, to lose three calls into serious question - to use the vernacular - the bottle of a side which purports to be among the best in the world.
When the final whistle went the whole Irish team danced a jig of deserved celebration while the white shirts of England trudged away - Six Nations champions but losers once again.
And then, to pile on the agony, they endured the embarrassment of having to watch Ireland, runners-up on scoring difference in the championship, complete a delirious lap of honour.
And you couldn't help but observe that on a sparkling autumn afternoon there was a spring in the step of every man in green and a look of fallen leaves about the men in white.
Clive Woodward's side, of course, were missing the spine of their formidable pack in the shape of inspirational captain Martin Johnson, Phil Vickery and Lawrence Dallaglio, all injured and all in their way vital to the cause.
But we shouldn't take anything away from the performance of an Irish side who were written off by most experts and yet composed a tale of unlikely glory in quite breathtaking fashion.
Time and again Ireland's courageous forwards, with Eric Miller and David Wallace imperious, swept forward in a green wave of determination. Time and again Irish muscle thundered into white shirts, sending the ball spinning and English brains scrambling.
And always at the heart of it was the bald head of Ireland skipper Keith Wood - a human threshing machine of a rugby player who led by wonderful example.
As it was Ireland hadn't beaten England since 1994 but this match even eclipsed that famous 13-12 thriller at Twickenham.
England were first to get the scoreboard ticking, Jonny Wilkinson kicking the penalty when Ireland were caught offside. Within a minute, however, Humphreys had levelled the scores with a penalty of his own as Ireland looked the sharper, shrewder outfit.
They would have breached the England line if Brian O'Driscoll had let his pass go when they enjoyed a three-man overlap in an opening when the green shirts increasingly devoured the white of England such was their superiority.
When the first try came in the 18th minute it was a wonderful example of Irish initiative from Wood, who in his 24th match as Ireland skipper was equalling the record of Tom Kiernan. Wood threw in the ball from a line-out 15 yards from the England line and up went Michael Galwey like one of the cranes which dot the construction-massed skyline around Lansdowne Road.
A huge hand reached from the heavens and palmed the ball into the path of hooker Wood, who thundered around the line-out, legs pumping, arms thrashing, to take the knockdown at full throttle and crash through the England defence with a flying leap which saw him sail over the England line.
The roar seemed to reverberate around the whole of Dublin and a shimmering sea of green told England they were in a dogfight of desperate dimensions.
Humphreys stretched the lead with another penalty after half-an-hour as the disarray in the England camp continued. And it seemed the England first-half misery was complete when scrum-half Matt Dawson - the man who had caused such a stir on the Lions tour with his criticism of the management - limped off with a knee injury to be replaced by Kieran Bracken.
Neil Back took over the captaincy and Wilkinson's second penalty on the stroke of half-time at least gave England an interval on which to build some hope.
When they came out for the second-half Woodward had replaced hapless hooker Phil Greening with Dorian West in a bid to cut the errors.
It didn't work since West's first work of any consequence saw him caught offside and Humphreys slotted over the penalty to stretch Ireland's lead to eight points.
The tension mounted as slowly England, though never fluent in their work, began to exert some concerted pressure. Wilkinson notched his third penalty from three kicks to guide England to within one touchdown and then wing Dan Luger engineered England's first creative spark.
Luger scythed through a gap, skipped past three defenders and appeared certain to score until a desperate tap-tackle from Ireland scrum-half Peter Stringer brought him crashing down.
Ireland suffered a blow when stand-off Humphreys had to leave the field with an injured leg, but even that brought another dramatic cameo, his replacement Ronan O'Gara trotting on to ease Ireland further ahead with a penalty with his first kick of the game.
Twenty minutes to go and Ireland led 17-9. An O'Gara penalty sent them further clear before Austin Healey, on for Luger, finally crossed the Irish line with four minutes remaining.
Try as England did it was too little, too late - the Ireland defence solid and unbreakable as they went on to complete a famous victory.
For Woodward and England it was just one more in a long line of ones that had got away.
Ireland: Dempsey, S. Horgan, B. O'Driscoll, Maggs, Hickie, Humphreys, Stringer, Clohessy, Wood, Hayes, Galwey, O'Kelly, Miller, D. Wallace, Foley.
Replacements: Mullins for B. O'Driscoll (79), O'Gara for Humphreys (60), E. Byrne for Clohessy (67), Brennan for Galwey (67), Dawson for Foley (79).
Not Used: Sheahan, G. Easterby.
Pens: Humphreys 3, O'Gara 2.
England: Balshaw, Luger, Greenwood, Catt, Robinson, Wilkinson, Dawson, Leonard, Greening, White, Shaw, Grewcock, Corry, Back, Hill.
Replacements: Healey for Luger (61), Bracken for Dawson (37), West for Greening (41), Rowntree for White (76), Moody for Corry (76).
Not Used: Borthwick, Perry.
Pens: Wilkinson 3.
Ref: Paul Honiss (New Zealand).