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Ireland 6 England 12: Poor value as irresistible force hits almost immovable object

So much for the brave new world of Six Nations entertainment.

On a filthy Sabbath in Dublin, the Irish old guard and England's New Model Army engaged in an ugly, error-strewn maelstrom which contrasted starkly with their pulsating displays during the tournament's opening weekend.

It was compelling, but so is a furious scrap between two playground bullies. It was dramatic, but that was more a consequence of the combatants digging in and refusing to accept defeat without having the savvy or inspiration to transcend the morass.

Yet, while England's callow contingent, led superbly by the ubiquitous Chris Robshaw, deserved credit for coping with their experienced opponents and surviving a late onslaught, it was attrition, not ambition, which reigned.

Perhaps the conditions could offer some excuse for the litany of dropped passes, botched kicks and general incompetence for large parts of the contest in which the visitors established a 6-0 lead at the interval, courtesy of two Owen Farrell penalties.

But there were no mitigating circumstances for the fashion in which Ireland prop Cian Healy cynically stamped on Dan Cole, who was lying on the wrong side of a ruck, and was fortunate to escape serious injury or worse from an incident which will almost inevitably lead to the player being cited and missing his country's next match, against Scotland in a fortnight.

Neither was there anything uplifting about the constant niggle and macho posturing between the rival packs, who served up more handbags than you would find at a Gucci convention, and so blatantly ignored the referee's pained cries for "Discipline!" that the whistler might as well have been Harpo Marx.

In the midst of the fisticuffs, some rugby occasionally threatened to break out, such as when the pacy Keith Earls released Rob Kearney and the full-back nearly seized a first-half try. But, for the most part, and even as the hosts upped the ante and narrowed the gap from Ronan O'Gara's boot in the 45th minute, the battle yielded casualties for the men in green, who lost Simon Zebo (ruled out for up to 10 weeks with a broken foot), then Jonathan Sexton, while Jamie Heaslip and Brian O'Driscoll required lengthy spells of treatment.

They must have imagined the balance had shifted in their favour when James Haskell was sin-binned in the 57th minute and O'Gara regained parity with the subsequent penalty. However, nothing seems to faze Stuart Lancaster's personnel and, far from being under the cosh when a man short, they actually increased their advantage with another brace of kicks from Farrell, who was one of the few individuals on the pitch not to be transformed into a human Vesuvius as the pandemonium continued.

When the denouement arrived, the tension was palpable and both O'Gara and Farrell squandered opportunities to narrow or extend the gap. The latter's rare mistake meant that Declan Kidney's team could still prevail with a converted touchdown but the majority in their ranks were wheezing by this stage and never looked like maintaining their decade-long stranglehold over the RFU's finest in the city.

Indeed, the crescendo of "Swing Low . . . " which resounded around the rain-lashed Aviva Stadium at the climax told its own story of how Ireland had contributed to their own downfall by striving and failing to outmuscle the English.

They will have to think again, prior to travelling to Murrayfield. Minus, one suspects, the pugnacious Healy, whose lack of sangfroid epitomised his ensemble's general dearth of composure.

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