Monday, February 11, 2013
Cool Farrell puts England in Six Nations control
By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - England won a Six Nations match in Dublin for the first time in ten years on Sunday when Owen Farrell kicked them to a 12-6 victory to become the only team capable of winning a Grand Slam after just two rounds of matches.
Ireland, who lost flyhalf Jonathan Sexton and wing Simon Zebo to injury in a first half in which the host's handling was simply abysmal, briefly drew level with England in the second half but Farrell's ever-reliable boot proved the difference.
Stuart Lancaster's men, whose last championship victory in Ireland also coincided with their last Grand Slam win, imposed themselves from the off and handed the 21-year-old Farrell a straightforward early penalty opportunity to give them the lead.
"If you practise enough it's only another kick," Farrell said in a pitch-side interview.
"I was unbelievably excited to come over here and get stuck into this game," he added.
It was 26 minutes before another score came as both sides dealt with the damp conditions by launching up-and-under after up-and-under, with Ireland far the sloppier from hand, knocking on almost every time they ventured into England territory.
Despite the Irish pressure, it was Farrell again who slotted over a penalty from distance to double the lead. To add to the host's wows, Sexton was carried off moments later, joining Zebo in the treatment room after his day lasted just 10 minutes.
Sexton's replacement Ronan O'Gara, making a record 126th appearance for his country, was penalised for holding on amid fierce England pressure on the stroke of halftime but luckily for the hosts, Farrell missed a rare shot at goal.
There was yet another knock on from an Irish hand three minutes into the second half but their scrum, obliterated in last year's corresponding fixture, mustered a huge push and O'Gara halved the deficit from the resulting penalty.
Brian O'Driscoll, who rushed to hospital earlier in the day for the birth of his first child, looked like he might have to join Sexton and Zebo on the sidelines but as has been the case on more than one occasion, the former captain limped on.
O'Gara, the only Irishman to have played more times for his country than O'Driscoll, drew the scores level just before the hour after England flanker James Haskell was sent to the sin bin for kicking the ball away illegally.
However Ireland had little chance to take advantage of the extra man as Farrell, who quickly put the hosts in trouble with a superb kick in behind, coolly slotted over two more penalties to restore his side's six-point lead.
"I thought the way we managed the sin-bin period was critical and we deserved the win. I'm chuffed for the maturity of the whole team," said Lancaster.
The choruses of 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' began among the away fans and as much as the noisy home support tried to drown them out, their team could not and O'Gara missed a very good chance to close the gap with ten minutes to go.
Farrell missed a penalty chance of his own to put the match beyond any doubt with just a few minutes to go as Declan Kidney's side, who travel to Scotland in two weeks time, were unable to wrestle back control.
"It's the little things that help you along and I thought we did those well today," said Farrell.
England, who also won a World Cup warm up game in Dublin 18 months ago, next host a French team all but out of contention following two opening losses and will be overwhelming favourites to win only their second championship since their 2003 victory.