Ten minutes cannot make a season, but what England achieved in that brief period went a long way to ending their decade of RBS Six Nations failure in Ireland’s capital and igniting their Grand Slam ambitions.
What took place between the 57th and 67th minutes at the Aviva Stadium could go down as a defining episode for Stuart Lancaster’s national team.
With their backs firmly to the wall, they grew in stature. When the tide threatened to engulf them, they turned it around. Forced into a corner, they fought their way out of it.
Delight: England celebrate their first Six Nations win in Dublin for a decade
Ireland: Kearney, Gilroy, O'Driscoll, D'Arcy, Zebo, Sexton, Murray, Healy, Best, Ross, McCarthy, Ryan, O'Mahony, O'Brien,
Replacements: Earls for Zebo (10), O'Gara for Sexton (31), S. Cronin for Healy (74), Kilcoyne for Best (74), Fitzgerald for Ross (78), Henry for Ryan (66), O'Callaghan for O'Brien (65).
Not Used: Reddan.
Pens: O'Gara 2.
England: Goode, Ashton, Barritt, Twelvetrees, Brown, Farrell, B. Youngs, Marler, T. Youngs, Cole, Launchbury, Parling, Haskell, Robshaw, Wood, Lawes.
Replacements: Tuilagi for Twelvetrees (47),
Hartley for T. Youngs (50), Wilson for Cole (76), Lawes for Launchbury (47), Waldrom for Lawes (71).
Not Used: Vunipola, Care, Flood.
Sin Bin: Haskell (56).
Pens: Farrell 4.
Ref: Jerome Garces (France).
It was an exhibition of maturity beyond their years. Faced with a crisis, Chris Robshaw and the rest of the young, inexperienced Englishmen around him demonstrated leadership and character and an ability to keep their heads under extreme pressure.
This was the work of veterans, carried out by rookies. It had the feeling of a watershed in their accelerated evolution.
On a wet and wild Dublin day, the situation they faced was particularly grave. With the Irish pack finally remaining error-free for long enough to build up a compelling head of steam, James Haskell’s sterling work at yet another ruck was undone by his interfering with the ball while rolling away. The Wasps flanker conceded a penalty in his own half and, with hands on his legs and head bowed in resignation, he was sin-binned by French referee Jerome Garces.
Seconds later, England’s 14 remaining men watched Ronan O’Gara — on for the injured Jonny Sexton — hit the target with his shot at goal to level the scores at 6-6. In grim conditions, with the crowd full of partisan fervour at the sight of their team rallying, and a wily No 10 on hand to pull the strings and maximise the numerical advantage, this was a critical, alarming moment.
Any sense of foreboding among Lancaster and the rest of the management up in the stand was rapidly dispelled. Just when it seemed that all was against them, that the sporting gods were clad in green, England’s novices stepped up. In the 61st minute, Brad Barritt’s burst in midfield generated a platform and the ball was swept left to Owen Farrell. He sent a clever, deft kick through towards the corner and when Rob Kearney picked up, he was ambushed by Mike Brown and Chris Ashton.
Vital: Owen Farrell's lethal right foot took centre stage in Dublin
From the resulting line-out, Ben Youngs chipped towards the in-goal area and Manu Tuilagi arrived on cue, but as he juggled the ball Keith Earls was able to knock it to safety.
Yet, play was brought back for an Irish infringement, allowing Farrell to add a third penalty to the two he had struck with such assurance before half-time. Two minutes later, more stifling England pressure led to another penalty and another three-point shot from their fly-half executioner.
By the time Haskell jogged back on shortly afterwards, the visitors had made light of his absence to such an extent that their lead was extended and momentum restored.
Ruck: England and Ireland players get a bit heated in the Dublin cold
Physical: England recorded their second successive Six Nations win
In its own way, this was a more significant passage of play than anything that had occurred eight days earlier at Twickenham, when Scotland were overrun by high-octane rugby.
As with the way England reacted to an All Black fightback in December by pulling clear again, this was a heartening demonstration that they are rapidly developing a knack for panic-free problem-solving. Amid the rain, they just had to find a way to win an arm-wrestling contest and they did so.
The coaches were positively glowing with satisfaction about a pragmatic performance that was perfectly in tune with the restrictive nature of the weather. It wasn’t pretty and that matters not one jot.
Andy Farrell was enthused by the maturity he had witnessed, describing the spell when England were down to 14 men as a ‘masterclass’. When he noted that ‘these days are made for guys like Ronan O’Gara and Brian O’Driscoll with all their experience and know-how’, it served as an emphatic endorsement of the comparatively callow figures in the England side.
Battle: Joe Marler wraps up Ronan O'Gara in a physical match at Aviva Stadium
O’Driscoll came into this match buzzing from the fact that he had become a first-time father just hours earlier — dashing to a nearby hospital to be present as his wife, Amy Huberman, gave birth to a baby girl.
He also began the game as the bookies’ favourite for the Lions captaincy, but within minutes of the final whistle, Ladbrokes had installed Robshaw as the front- runner for that ultimate honour. It was a fitting reflection of his latest tour de force.
England’s skipper was named man of the match and that, too, was appropriate recognition. The Harlequins flanker was relentlessly calm and precise and nigh-on flawless in his decision-making. He set the tone by outstanding example and when his team needed a leader yesterday, they found they had one of the highest calibre.
Close: Neither team scored a try in the low-scoring match
In fact, they had several. There was a revealing scene five minutes from time when Lancaster’s side won a scrum in the Irish 22. As they gathered in a huddle, several men had their say, Robshaw but also others such as Alex Goode, Ben Youngs and Dylan Hartley. So much has been made of the concept of a ‘leadership group’ and here it was in operation. In contrast, Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip was reduced to a state of bumbling disarray before half-time and other veterans such as O’Gara and Gordon D’Arcy could do nothing to match or deny the English colts.
The visitors went ahead in the third minute and they were not behind on the scoreboard at any point. They eventually secured their first championship win in Dublin since the Grand Slam triumph of 2003, to continue this regime’s habit of ending grim sequences of defeat in inhospitable locations. Andy Farrell described it as ‘an absolutely massive win’.
The upshot of it is that England, buoyed by this mature, measured victory go into ‘Le Crunch’ at home against France on February 23 as title favourites. On this evidence, a Slam is by no means a fanciful notion, as a stepping stone to many grand times ahead.
Bad surface: The pitch cut up severely at Aviva Stadium
Exchange: England captain Chris Robshaw remonstrates with referee Jerome Garces