Naughty England fail to learn lessons
"Knowledge," said Brian O'Driscoll on Friday "is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad."
God only knows what ends up in the fruit salads of Phil Vickery and Danny Care - brussels sprouts? Segments of Terry's Chocolate Orange? - but they were strangers to both wit and wisdom during Ireland's 14-13 victory over England at Croke Park on Saturday.
Vickery is a man with 71 England caps to his name, yet he still fails to grasp that when a referee warns you not to bind on your opponent's arm, it's probably best not to bind on your opponent's arm at the very next scrum. Such stupidity leads only one way: to the sin bin.
And guess what Vickery was quoted as saying earlier this week? "Referees do communicate and if they are asking you not to do something and you keep doing it, they are going to penalise you." Remarkable.
Care's needless barge on Marcus Horan elicited a furious response from England manager Martin Johnson, who had spent the previous two weeks banging on in the media, and presumably to his players, about the importance of discipline.
"I'd rather not talk about penalties all week but we will keep on until we stop giving too many away," said Johnson before the match.
Thanks to Vickery, Care and the rest of England's knuckle-headed recidivists, Johnson will be talking about nothing else ahead of England's match with France in a fortnight as he reflects on the statistic that 10 of his players have picked up yellow cards in the last four matches.
"They've cost themselves a Test match against one of the best teams in Europe," said Johnson, who was clearly deeply hurt by his side's display.
"You've got to keep your composure in games like that. Some of the penalties we gave away were just stupid. It's incredibly annoying and frustrating.
"It's one of the fundamentals of rugby, not giving away penalties. When you give away 18 penalties away, you're not going to win Test matches."
Johnson must be at the stage where he is asking himself why, when players were ever willing to follow his lead on the field, they are unwilling, or unable, to follow his lead when he is slamming his fist on the sidelines.
It is becoming abundantly clear also that Johnson needs someone other than captain Steve Borthwick to reinforce his message in the heat of battle. When all about him are losing their heads, Borthwick too often keeps his down.
There were few positives to take away from Dublin. Prior to Saturday it had been argued that if England's backs were provided with regular quick ball, they would find holes in the opposition defence. That argument was demolished in the first half, when England's backs simply did not have the wit to unpick Ireland's defence despite a solid enough base.
Indeed, courtesy of some desperately poor kicking, there were times before the break when it seemed both sides were attempting to do the impossible, namely suck the life out of the Croke Park faithful.
Emblematic of just how poor England were was the performance of Delon Armitage, one of the few England backs who seemed to have a spot on this summer's British and Irish Lions tour sewn up before kick-off.
His late try could not paper over some woeful kicking out of hand and some decidedly hesitant play in defence, with some flagrant indiscipline thrown in for good measure.
And it could easily be argued that only wing Mark Cueto and replacement Mathew Tait, who both looked sharp, came out of the game with their reputations enhanced.
Ireland, lest we forget, were almost as poor as England, with Ronan O'Gara seemingly wearing flippers when kicking. Crucially, however, they gave away 10 fewer penalties than England. The result of this discrepancy? Well, that's just simple mathematics.
It was left to O'Driscoll, a man who so often manages to rise above the mediocrity around him, to make sure of the win, and even then England came close to pick-pocketing a result at the death.
At times, England's treatment of O'Driscoll resembled Italy's roughhousing of Diego Maradona at the 1982 World Cup. As Italian hatchet man Claudio Gentile said at the time, "football's not for ballerinas", and to be fair to O'Driscoll, he had no complaints after the game.
However, despite O'Driscoll's heroics, the odds on Declan Kidney's men landing only their second ever Grand Slam will surely have been reduced, and their trip to Murrayfield on 14 March to play Scotland could be a hairy one, let alone the match with Wales on the final weekend.
Talk of Grand Slams must be very far from Johnson's mind at this moment in time. For him, just getting through a game without seeing any of his players yellow-carded is the stuff of a madman's dreams.