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Grim determination etched on Paul O'Connell's face just before kick-off
Inpho/Dan Sheridan
Ireland The Winners In Every Department
2 February 2007, 11:32 am
By Pat Geraghty
In delivering a record 43-13 defeat on England at Croke Park, Ireland came out on top in every department from coach Eddie O'Sullivan right down to defensive co-ordinator Graham Steadman.
In the tactical one-on-ones, O'Sullivan versus Ashton, Steadman versus Mike Forde, in boxing parlance it was a unanimous decision in favour of the Irish pair. In the team context, Ireland v England, had it been a boxing contest, the towel would have been thrown in by the white corner at half-time.

And Ireland's decision to delay a while before they left the dressing room - leaving the English out there on their lonesome - was also a clever little ploy. The English looked vulnerable as they stood in the Croke Park ampitheatre with the crowd baying, 'Ireland, Ireland, Ireland'.

Kudos also to forwards coach Niall O'Donovan whose pack totally out-powered, out-muscled, out-everthinged their English oNo ALT tag specifiedpponents while the Irish backline's control - save for the Strettle try - was awesomely impressive.

It must be said one would have to agree with Denis Walsh in The Sunday Times when he said that England were awful but that cannot take anything away from an awesomely impressive Irish performance. On the few occasions in the opening half when England spread it wide they looked capable enough but never capable of breaching the Irish defensive line. Whatever was Ashton thinking, choosing the Bash Sreet Boys, Andy Farrell and Mike Tindall as a centre partnership ? Mirror images, their first attacking instinct is to bash it up. So is their second. And third. And against defenders like Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll, it's as effective as an ashtray on a motorbike.

This time around we saw the Paul O'Connell we know and love. The big man knew he needed to deliver and how he did. Perhaps those immediately around him caught the mood because they followed the example set by the Munster captain. And the predicted mayhem that was going to be visited on Marcus Horan and John Hayes never actually materialised. O'Gara won the man of the match award and rightly so. O'Connell had to be another contender. So too David Wallace. But had the accolade been awarded to John Hayes, there would not have been a single quibble.

Before the French game, O'Sullivan made particular mention of the significance of O'Driscoll's absence. There were those however who felt that the more damaging loss was that of Peter Stringer and yesterday's performance by Stringer bore out that view. The Cork man gave his out-half the service that allowed the best number 10 in northern hemisphere rugby to totally boss this game. And that Ronan O'Gara did that in the presence of Johnny Wilkinson will have given him a great deal of satisfaction.

No ALT tag specifiedIn the run up to this game, O'Sullivan had, unusually, got himself a little excited over the will-he, won't-he play saga concerning Wilkinson, suggesting his counterpart Ashton was engaging in mind games. It's unlikely that Wilkinson would participate in such nonsense, he's far too professional. And yesterday's evidence, where Wilkinson failed to sparkle, suggests he may indeed have gone into the game carrying a niggle.

There may also be those who will point to the incident in the 31st minute when Danny Grewcock was yellow carded and claim that as a turning point in England's fortune. They couldn't be more wrong. Yes Ireland were only leading 9-3 at that time. And yes Ireland scored within a minute of his departure. But whether he had stayed on or not, it would have made absolutely no difference to the final outcome. To the margin perhaps but even that is debatable.

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