THE DUBLIN MORNING brought with it the dreadful crackling sound of tyres on water-coated tarmac.
The vicious accuracy of Ireland’s back play last week was suddenly unlikely to thrill for a third game in a row.
This was a day for tight fives to keep it tight.
Ireland’s patience, though, has become short and the first half at the Aviva Stadium was littered with handling error after handling error.
Mike McCarthy’s stand-still moments drew the ire of the crowd, but when the captain is making basic errors and giving away penalties, it is only fuel to a visiting team’s fire.
The spark injected into the green shirt on this ground in November was lost too; Simon Zebo (broken foot) and Jonathan Sexton (hamstring) each limping from the field in an opening act which read like a grim saga after the high-octane stuff produced in the first 40 in Cardiff.
That Sexton would depart without even a chance to test his range was even more cruel. He could only watch on as his chief rival for the Lions shirt dominated the territorial exchanges and effortlessly swept two penalties over the bar from distance.
The only silver lining at the break was that Ireland, for all their profligacy in possession, were still within a single score.
James Haskell’s moment of madness gave the hosts parity on the scoreboard and superiority in numbers on the field, and this genuinely felt like Ronan O’Gara’s phoenix moment.
Sadly, for Ireland, there would be no miraculous comeback against the odds. This was a time for youth and fresh legs. The pain within the limping bodies of Brian O’Driscoll, Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney could be felt high in the stands.
Stuart Lancaster, himself youthful in coaching terms, strode into the post-match arena flanked by his three coaching lieutenants. The humility of the man brings focus to the unit. The unit of himself, Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt is what makes this incarnation of England different from all the pretenders in the last 10 years.
“They definitely had pride in the defence today,” said Andy Farrell, the man charged with marshaling the bulwark on top of controlling the pride of watching his son make the difference. “But I was more pleased with the way that we handled the whole situation.
“I’d put that up there as a huge win, simply because we’ve come to Ireland and played a hell of a good side. These games are made for people like Ronan O’Gara and Brian O’Driscoll – the experience and the nous of how to get through this type of game in these conditions.
“There was a tricky point in the third quarter where we had a couple of back to back errors, but the way we composed ourselves and finished the game was a masterclass really.”
When Ireland did manage to make passes stick, the answers were still hard to come by. Too often green shirts ran into walls, the physicality of the tackle forcing a nervousness in possession.
“Right now we’d be extremely disappointed.” Kidney said as he sat beside a shell-shocked Jamie Heaslip. It had been a long delay before the pair arrived to face the gathered press a rueful dressing room.
“When you turn the ball over that much, you’re going to be disappointed in your own performance. But it wasn’t like we were that far off the mark either.
“We were 6-6 with 20 minutes to go and we felt we had only gotten out of second or third gear in the first half, and sometimes you have to come through that over the course of a game or a Championship.”
The Championship, of course, is still a possibility, but it is out of Ireland’s hands. Kidney was joined by Kearney in emphasising the words “France” and “Wales” within England’s remaining fixture list.
However, the momentum, so wistfully talked about by coaches and players through January is now lost to a drenched Dublin day.
The Six Nations demands an all-terrain skill-set from players. England have proved they at least have that.
“At Test level” Lancaster says, “if you’ve got a day where it’s not far off freezing and pouring down with rain, it’s always going to be one type of game. It’s all about small margins and gains.
“It’s great to be able to win one way against Scotland, and a different way today.”
Ireland, on the other hand, wanted to play one way and suffered for it.