There was little inkling beforehand, but yesterday's performance will go down as one of our greatest ever displays
IT IS difficult to live in the present, ridiculous to live in the future and impossible to live in the past. Nothing is as far away as one minute ago. As the drama unfolded yesterday, I looked at the clock.
There were 79 minutes gone.
One minute later, Ireland wrote themselves into history. This team has just won the Triple Crown.
I wrote last week that it was important that this team knew the stakes and that they would have a very keen sense that they had everything to lose if this match went against them. It would seem that they knew exactly what the stakes were. But you would never have guessed that before the match.
Remember Brian O'Driscoll's misplaced verbiage when he said "Hopefully we can give the prawn sandwich brigade something to choke on?" He could never in his wildest dreams have meant it or could he? It was the equivalent of a man talking confidently about God.
This, after all, was Sir Clive Woodward's World Cup winning side who were playing in the home of rugby before a swinging, swooning crowd lit up by the haze of the William Webb Ellis gold which lay on view on a table in Twickenham.
Back to that poor, innocent, pink little crustacean ? the prawn. Like most crustaceans, they have no backbone. For Ireland and O'Driscoll to prove that they were even worthy of making such a comment, which was seized on by the English press and magnified to a ridiculous degree, Ireland would have to show some backbone.
As Sir Clive rightly put it to them ? "We do our talking on the pitch". I wonder what he is saying now.
As with all great victories, sometimes there are signs or little ideas that present themselves to you beforehand so you know something special is going to happen.
Nothing of this kind made itself evident that a performance of this calibre was about to unfold.
Eddie O'Sullivan gave a hint that there might be a big performance in them. You know the type, a 60-minute show of defiance, a kind of patriotic display performed by the kind of patriot who is willing to die for his country but never gives a thought to actually killing for his country.
Ireland had a couple of assassins out on the park yesterday and they had the full armoury with them. Six points is scant justice for a performance of this magnitude. They buried England, they will need to dig very deep to recover from this demolition.
Ireland are an easy side to figure out. They think in algebraic form, they go about themselves in predictable and directable lines. They are easily closed down with a little bit of mental application in the video room. If England were bothered, they could have won this game handy but they did not turn up the play and were totally fooled by the pace of their first two outings against Italy and Scotland. They just could not change up the gears quickly enough to meet the pace of the match which was being determined by Ireland. At no stage did they ever get to that level.
It is very easy for them to point to the fact that there was no comfort blanket of Martin Johnson or Jonny Wilkinson. When the going got tough, all heads were turned to Johnson and he would show them manfully himself what to do. But the shepherd has retired and the flock have scattered.
Lawrence O'Dallaglio tried manfully to stir England but his crew really didn't have it within them. As events transpired through the match, it only then became obvious, particularly to Woodward.
England greviously missed the power and brutishness of Danny Grewcock. Steve Borthwick was an imposter and Paul O'Connell blew out the light of his candle. The wick was extinguished from 20 minutes out.
Ireland delivered a towering offensive display on England's put in at lineout time.
And this is where the game was won. Last year, Ireland sensed that they could profit from what was perceived as opportunity or possibility room or at the very least a smidgen of space outside the outside centre. As it transpired, not even Frodo Baggins could have squeezed through any one of the gaps.
This time Ireland cut their cloth. Reality dictated that England would have to play in their 22. O'Gara, despite a sometimes erratic service from his under pressure partner, masterfully turned England and most of this game with a series of line-outs on England's 22.
Paul O'Connell nicked the first ball thrown to Steve Borthwick in the second minute and this theme continued throughout the game.
It was dustbin day at lineout time for England. Matt Dawson got aerial rubbish all day and if he wasn't fielding ricochet ball, he didn't get anything at all as O'Connell ate Borthwick whole and live.
That pattern was very much the story of the game, England struggling to win primary ball and Paul Grayson putting it back in ? 10 or 15 metres further than the previous line-out. Steve Thompson also had a shocker ? his mind was elsewhere. Too much champagne since November. His darts were more Dom McGlinchy than Dom Perignon.
Even when England won some directable ball, it took them so long to settle and get their maul into a position to generate forward momentum. They also had to seriously second guess what to do on Ireland's throw-in. Ireland showed great application and common sense in moving the jumpers around to a point of weakness down the England line.
England were in a quandary. They knew how good Ireland's maul was.
What would they do ? would they let them have the ball and try to stop the maul at infancy or would they do battle in the sky? They guessed wrong on every occasion and when they eventually figured Ireland's line-out policy out, Ireland changed again and threw long to Simon Easterby. This utterly flummoxed them.
Ireland were utterly comfortable at scrum time. They got a few sloppy deliveries when they lost concentration but they generally did as they pleased. Ireland's back row were the winning of the game.
Easterby was colossal in everything he did and Anthony Foley was not too far behind him. Keith Gleeson had a field day on the ground where Ireland pilfered seven or eight balls against the carrier.
Joe Worsley was completely out of his league and England needed to introduce Neil Back from 30 minutes to go to guarantee continuity.
Incredibly, Woodward chose to send on the 6'6" Sale second row Chris Jones.
Ireland easily withheld most of England's best efforts. Though England remained patient, a knockon from poor delivery or a poorly chosen chip was the best they had to show.
Everytime Ireland beat England the common denominator is that England played badly and Ireland play above themselves. It can be justified that England were not let play. I think the truth is that this match is a real balance sheet of the state of each team. England will struggle to recover. As for Ireland, those dog-eared, beer stained, faded photographs of the 1985 team can be put further back down the wall and replaced by the Triple Crown champions of 2004. Ireland, take a bow!
PS: I think we owe Mr Paul Honiss a couple of gallons of Guinness.