LONDON – Ireland secured their third Six Nations Grand Slam in emphatic style on Saturday when, on a St Patrick’s Day to remember, they overwhelmed defending champions England 24-15 to join the men of 1948 and 2009 in the country’s rugby hall of fame.
The Irish made light of sleet and biting wind and an England team desperate to avoid a third successive defeat as they deservedly led 21-5 at halftime, with tries by Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander and the prolific Jacob Stockdale.
England, unbeaten at home in the Six Nations since 2012, managed tries by Elliot Daly in each half and another in stoppage time by Jonny May but always looked second-best.
Ireland, who have now won 12 games in a row, top the standings on 26 points ahead of Scotland on 13, Wales 11, France and England on 10 and Italy with one.
Following Scotland’s win in Rome earlier on Saturday and with just the Wales versus France game left in the championship, England will finish outside the top three for the first time in 12 years and could end as low as fifth – their worst performance in 35 years.
A year ago in Dublin Ireland ended English Grand Slam hopes by handing Eddie Jones his first defeat as England coach and on Saturday they rubbed it in by giving him his first at Twickenham.
The Australian’s oft-stated aim has been to build England into a team capable of challenging New Zealand as the best in the world but at the moment they have dropped so far off the pace that they are not even close to being the best in Europe.
That honour goes to Ireland, deserved champions – though the Grand Slam looked a long way away when they began the 41-phase move that ended with a Johnny Sexton drop goal to snatch victory in their first match away to France.
They had no need for such heroics on Saturday, however, as they were rarely troubled at a ground where they had lost on three of their last four visits.
It was all Ireland in the opening 20 minutes as they built a 14-0 lead that England could hardly complain about.
First the TMO ruled that Ringrose had fairly reached the ball after Anthony Watson spilled a Sexton up-and-under, then Stander skidded into the base of a post after Bundee Aki had blasted through the English midfield.
England finally roused themselves with a series of driving mauls that created space for Owen Farrell to find with a deft kick for Daly to reach on the left wing.
But just as the crowd were getting ready for halftime with the game delicately poised at 14-5, the visitors struck in stoppage time with a knockout blow.
The TMO again ruled in their favour as Stockdale knocked on – legally – with his knee before diving on the ball for his 11th try in his nine internationals to send Ireland in 21-5 ahead.
England, seeking to avoid a third successive defeat in the competition for the first time since 2006, came out full of fire in the second half, but came up against the disciplined, organised and hugely motivated defence that has been a key aspect in Ireland’s march to the title.
As Ireland stood firm, the thousands of their fans were ensuring it was the St Patrick’s Day of a lifetime as the sounds of their “Fields of Athenry” anthem rang around the ground and the volume was cranked up further when a Conor Murray penalty after an hour stretched the lead to 19.
A great backhand pass by Mike Brown sent Daly over and May had the last word.
But, summing up England’s day and entire championship, Farrell uncharacteristically failed to convert any of the three tries and the score did nothing other than slightly delay the Irish celebrations.
“We gave them too many penalties at the start of the game and allowed them to build a lead,” Jones said.
“They are a good tough team, very worthy Grand Slam champions, and they’ve performed extremely well today.”