Ireland won the third Grand Slam in their history as they saw off England 24-15 in the snow at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day.
Joe Schmidt’s side had already secured the NatWest 6 Nations title a week ago with victory over Scotland but they were desperate to complete the Slam, and did so with tries from Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander and Jacob Stockdale before half-time.
Elliot Daly crossed once in each half for Eddie Jones’ side, but they were well-beaten, falling to a first home defeat in the Championship since going down to Wales in 2012.
Only France in 1981 had previously travelled to Twickenham and clinched the Grand Slam but since those 41 phases and that Johnny Sexton drop goal, Ireland have never looked back in this year’s Championship and they never trailed in this encounter.
They made the perfect start when Ringrose dotted down after just six minutes. The visitors had shown huge intensity from the off, with Iain Henderson bumping off Owen Farrell with one carry in the very first minute.
Ireland hit the lead when Sexton’s pinpoint up-and-under put Anthony Watson under the spotlight. Rob Kearney put enough pressure on to prevent the full-back from collecting cleanly, and as the ball bounced away from him, Ringrose reacted fastest to dot down. Sexton converted to make it 7-0.
England could have cut the deficit almost immediately but turned down a kickable penalty to go to the corner. It proved to be the wrong decision as Ireland nullified their maul and turned the ball over – the home side’s big ball-carriers unable to make an impact on the Irish defence.
It was not perfect from Ireland, for whom Bundee Aki put down a pass when seemingly away down the left, while Sexton struck a straightforward penalty against the post.
However on 24 minutes they doubled their lead. Off the top of a lineout, the ball was spread wide and Tadhg Furlong’s clever delayed pop put Aki clean through. He found Stander inside him and the No.8’s momentum took him to the base of the post where he dotted down the second try. Sexton converted and England had it all to do.
They did respond with their first extended period of possession in Ireland territory, and when Peter O’Mahony pulled down a maul, he was duly sent to the sin-bin.
With an extra man, and another penalty advantage, Farrell’s grubber kick allowed Daly to score England’s first try, although Farrell’s conversion attempt drifted wide.
England lost Watson in the build-up to that score, replaced by Mike Brown, while Sexton also temporarily departed.
But if England thought the momentum was with them, it was the visitors who struck again before the break. Stockdale was put into space down the left, he chipped over Brown, and then after nudging it forward off both knees, dotted down just before the ball went dead, beating the blue line that had been painted to cope with the snow.
His record seventh try in the Championship was converted by Joey Carbery, and Ireland led 21-5 at half-time.
England needed to start the second half well, and they spent the first six minutes in the Irish 22, but could not find a way through and eventually a dangerous clearout by Daly allowed the visitors to clear their lines.
Where England were struggling to turn territory into points, Ireland were clinical, and when Jamie George failed to roll away from a tackle, Conor Murray tagged on three points to make it 24-5 on the hour.
Trailing by three scores, England needed the most unlikely of comebacks, but after a maul on the right, they worked the ball to the left to put Daly over for his second try. Again, Farrell was off-target with the conversion with Ireland’s lead cut to 14.
Still, it felt like a long way back, and when Joe Marler was penalised for a late tackle on Carbery, the replacement fly-half could have sealed the victory with the Fields of Athenry ringing around Twickenham, only to pull his effort just wide.
It mattered little though, even when May went over with the final play of the game, and the Irish party could begin as Rory Best’s team followed in the footsteps of the 1948 and 2009 teams.