DUBLIN // Martin Johnson slammed England's lack of discipline at Croke Park on Saturday, believing it cost them the chance to record a famous win at the Irish citadel. England conceded 18 penalties and played a quarter of the game with 14 men after Phil Vickery and Danny Care were sin-binned, taking their yellow card tally to 10 in four games.
Johnson was visibly livid with Care's dismissal for a mindless barge on Ireland prop Marcus Horan with 11 minutes remaining and felt it cost England the chance of victory. At the time Ireland led 11-5 courtesy of a try and a drop goal from Brian O'Driscoll but Ronan O'Gara converted the penalty to push his side two scores clear. England staged a late rally and Delon Armitage scored with two minutes left - but it was too late and England went down 14-13.
"I thought we handled them defensively pretty well in the first half but the penalties weren't great by half-time and it got worse," said Johnson. "I said to the players after the match, you cost yourselves the game. Face facts, it was a big effort, they did some things very well at times but if you give away 18 penalties you are going to lose. "The one that really changed the game was Danny's. It was 11-6, it made it 14-6 and we had no scrum-half for 10 minutes.
"The focus has been not giving penalties away and trusting our defence and being accurate in that area - and they have done it again. I am angry for them, not me. We have gone toe to toe with one of the better teams in Europe, a team that could win this championship. "We were under pressure at times and at times we had them under pressure- but if you give 18 penalties away you are not going to win."
O'Driscoll, the Ireland captain, refused to contemplate the Grand Slam despite seeing his side make it three wins out of three. Victory over Scotland in a fortnight would sweep them within one match of a first Grand Slam for 61 years, yet O'Driscoll will look no further than Murrayfield. "Nothing has changed for us," he said. "We'll give Scotland exactly the same respect we gave France, Italy and England," he said.
"We're talking about Scotland and them alone. Murrayfield is a tough place to go - I know that from experience. "Any side can beat any other in this tournament. That's what makes it so hard to win. "We'll enjoy this victory and then start focusing all of our attention on Murrayfield." * PA