Brian O'Driscoll scores a brilliant try beneath English fly-half Toby Flood

Brian O'Driscoll scores a great try under the body of Toby Flood

The great, good and not so good of the rugby writing realm are doing their thing; the Sunday writers developing hernias in their bid to make their tighter than tight deadlines.
Having phoned some post-match analysis back to regional radio, I leaf through my notes before popping a few thoughts on the game onto my blog: I’m hip with the technology so I am.
I’m one of only three journalists manning desk space in the second writers’ room in Croke Park during the timeframe in question. And what entered my ears over the next few minutes left me incandescent.
Ireland had “scuffed” their way to Six Nations victory according to an English colleague dictating a match report back to his sports desk over his mobile phone.
Throwing jingoistic considerations aside, I have to say I didn’t quite see it that way. To hear such blinkered opining from a professional journalist really took me aback. It was the sort of analysis one expects from a club PRO, not a seasoned reporter.
While there can be no doubting that god-awful English indiscipline cost Martin Johnson’s men dearly during a physically brutal game, they owed their competitiveness in the fixture mainly due to Ronan O’Gara’s wayward tee-kicking.
Only the most myopic observer could have concluded that anything other than an Irish win would have represented a travesty. To prove the point, the superb post-match statistic sheet emailed to reporters on Saturday night hammered home that assertion.
During the game, Ireland turned the ball over five times, England only once. Ireland won 80 balls in open play – England won 60.
In set pieces, Ireland claimed the ball on 38 occasions – England did so 25 times. When it came to forays into the 22, Ireland managed 12 efforts, England ended with nine.
In every facet of play, Ireland emerged victorious, conceding just eight penalties in comparison to England’s 16. And of course, England coughed up two more yellow cards, bringing their total to a remarkable 10 in four games.
Beyond any dispute and contrary to my George’s Cross-blinkered colleague, Ireland were good value for their win and remain firmly on course to claim only a second ever Grand Slam.
The team’s work rate was exceptional; the back three in particular playing like auxiliary forwards such was their intensity in the contact zone and one can’t single any of the Bowe/Kearney/Fitzgerald triumvirate out such was their collective excellence.
Again, Ireland won a major test match without relying on the boot of Ronan O’Gara. Had the Munster fly-half converted even half his kicks, this game would have been over long before Delon Armitage’s 79th minute try.
The notion that Ireland can only win when O’Gara is the groove has surely now been dispelled, but the need for a replacement fly-half if (a) O’Gara is injured or (b) O’Gara is out of form has never been greater.
In Brian O’Driscoll, Ireland couldn’t have asked for a better leader. His drop goal was expertly despatched and his vital try at the game’s three-quarter stage was taken in the manner of a flanker.
More than once, O’Driscoll was on the deck receiving treatment after a couple of cynical English bodychecks.
But he was never going to allow himself to be replaced last Saturday. What was at stake for this team in this game under his captaincy simply mattered too much. He truly laid his body on the line for his country.
Those that thought this was a man who could no longer cut it at this level have been made to look most foolish in recent weeks given the outstanding performances O’Driscoll has produced in the green jersey.
His work ethic, his ceaseless refusal to shirk the big hit and his constant driving the team forward in earning the sort of hard yards that win big matches, has been inspirational. This was truly one of the greatest ever performances from our greatest ever player.
Now England’s display was not without its positive moments, mostly spearheaded by Mike Tindall at 13, while Matthew Tait was surely denied a try thanks to a magnificent Rob Kearney tackle.
But their inability to control the ball at the breakdown made the job all the harder for the visitors, as Ireland regularly turned over possession thanks to great work from Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan and John Hayes.
This was never going to be a pretty game, nor was it destined to carry the emotional and cultural resonance of the historic meeting at GAA HQ two springs ago.
But Ireland delivered a performance and a result which keeps them at the top of the Six Nations table, safe in the knowledge that two further wins will deliver all that their hearts desire.
The mood will remain tempered within the camp – there’s simply too much experience in the Irish squad for the outlook to be anything other than one of quiet confidence.
Results, when all is written and spouted, are all that matter now. It’s not about playing Barbarian-type rugby at every available opportunity.
It’s about closing down the opposition while looking to create openings in the red zone. It’s about control in the tight and discipline from full-back through to hooker. It’s about doing the simple things well. It’s about winning.
Declan Kidney masterminded two Heineken Cup victories with Munster which were cut from a stone marked ‘do the simple things well’. And right now, it appears he is on course to top the European test summit through the same formula.
While England will rue their indiscipline, Ireland’s bruised heroes will reflect on a job well done, a performance awash with both patience and persistence, while remaining aware that they’ll need both qualities in abundance in Edinburgh and Cardiff.
Two steps from immortality, Ireland remain in control of their Six Nations destiny. Great, isn’t it?
One other thing: my ‘learned’ English colleague said that Ireland were “no Grand Slam team” on the evidence of Saturday’s performance. But with three wins from three, they’re the only team left that might be a Grand Slam team, m’colleague!