England coach Stuart Lancaster hails maturity in win over Ireland
Coach says young players coped superbly with the conditions and Ireland's experience to emerge as the only team with grand slam hopes
England coach Stuart Lancaster was delighted by the maturity of his youthful side after they emerged from a brutal encounter in Dublin as the only side in this season's Six Nations who can win a grand slam.
Chris Robshaw, the England captain, led from the front at the breakdown while 21-year-old flyhalf Owen Farrell also did his chances of selection for the British and Irish Lions' tour of Hong Kong and Australia no harm by kicking all of the visitors' points in a 12-6 win over Ireland.
England's first Six Nations success in the Irish capital for a decade was achieved against a backdrop of constant rain that negated the running game favoured by both sides.
But whereas their record-breaking 38-21 win over world champions New Zealand at Twickenham in December witnessed three England tries in a match few expected them to win, this success saw the visitors grind out victory, with Farrell kicking four penalties to two from Ireland replacement Ronan O'Gara.
However, both successes saw England overcome a rally by their opponents, with England staving off a late Ireland fightback.
"It is very difficult to play rugby against experienced players when we have lads on single figures in terms of caps, it is great testament to their maturity," said Lancaster. "As a test of character it was right up there because of the quality of the Ireland side and the ability to get the win."
England's defence rarely looked like being breached and they turned round 6-0 in front before O'Gara, on for the injured Jonathan Sexton, drew Ireland level.
But despite being a man down after James Haskell was sin-binned, England outscored Ireland 6-3 in the 10 minutes the blindside flanker was off the field.
"It's a huge win because we came up against an Ireland team on a day which was made for players likes Ronan O'Gara and Brian O'Driscoll and they have the nous to win on such days and get through such conditions," said England assistant coach Andy Farrell, the father of Owen.
"There was a tricky point in the third quarter but the way we composed ourselves and finished the game - our energy got better, our line speed got better, our composure - was a masterclass of how to handle that last 20 minutes," the former dual-code international added.
Haskell, playing his first Six Nations match since England were denied a grand slam in Dublin two years ago, admitted he feared the worst when shown a yellow card by French referee Jerome Garces for kicking the ball out of a ruck.
"I think my life probably flashed before my eyes," Haskell said. "I thought if we lost the game I would have to run straight out of the stadium.
"I didn't intentionally kick it but it was the third penalty in a row and someone was going to get it. The fact we won that period is credit to those on the field."
Ireland coach Declan Kidney refused to rule out his side's chances of winning the championship. "France are in London next time up and England still have to go to Wales. When we get our own game right we will be in a good position. We just were not on the money today," he said.