Six Nations: Ireland complete the third Grand Slam in their history with 24-15 victory over England

Hugh Godwin

It was the grandest of St Patrick’s Day celebrations for Grand Slam-grabbing Ireland as three first-half tries blew England away and completed a big shift in European rugby’s balance of power.

Ireland came here as the new Six Nations champions with an unassailable lead in the table but with this impressive if partly controversial victory, the men in green completed only the third Grand Slam in their history – drawing themselves level with Scotland, and six, eight and 10 behind France, Wales and England respectively.

Ireland’s prime assets of a narrow attack combined with individuals able and willing to pout their foot on the gas when they need to were too much for an England mostly unable to get onto the front foot, or make decisive incisions on the rare occasions they managed to.

Ireland players celebrate (Reuters)

Rory Best, the Ireland captain, collected the champions’ trophy, with the Triple Crown to boot, as England’s players watched the nightmare scenario of their opponents sweeping the board of Six Nations prizes at Twickenham.

England have lost three Six Nations matches for the first time since 2006, while Ireland have been imperious since It Johnny Sexton drop goal after 41 phases of a last-ditch attack against France in Paris – when the fly-half picked himself up from cramp halfway through the sequence –set the Irish in their way to this new milestone.

Sexton came into the Ireland team just after the 2009 Grand Slam but 73 caps and Six Nations titles in 2014, 2015 and 2018 later, he is arguably the world’s finest fly-half.

Troubled England came into this on the back of losses away to Scotland and France, and facing their first loss at home in 15 matches here since Eddie Jones took over as head coach after the 2015 World Cup.

England were sub-par again (Getty Images)

A capacity crowd might have done more to roar England on in the opening stages, but it felt as if Twickenham man and woman were waiting to be roused by the deposed champions of 2016 and 2017.

Instead, a bullishly confident Irelands building a 14-0 advantage in the opening 23 minutes.

Sexton hoisted a steepling high ball towards England’s full-back Anthony Watson, who had his opposite number Rob Kearney for company.

The ball tumbled from the pair into England’s in-goal, and Garry Ringrose got his hand on it for an Ireland try converted by Johnny Sexton for 7-0, but replays suggested the try should never have been given as Kearney touched the ball forwards as he competed with Watson.

The hosts made a sluggish start (Getty Images)

Sexton hit the right-hand post with a 40-metre penalty but his next big act was to convert Ireland’s second try by No.8 CJ Stander, grounded against the base of the other post.

Maro Itoje interfered with an Irish line-out on something of a recidivist offence for the Saracens lock in his desperation for steals, but play went on and a lovely midfield move between Sexton and prop Tadhg Furlong, with Sexton then becoming a decoy, sent inside centre Bundee Aki through a gap, and his pass was taken on at speed by Stander.

It took England, now 14-0 down, a long time to reply as they went for line-outs over shots at goal.

One penalty came from a shoulder charge on Elliot Daly by Aki that incensed the Wasps wing.

This is Ireland's third Grand Slam (Getty Images)

They also made a bizarre call to throw to the tail after two good mauls were at the front, and lost the ball with a bullet of an overthrow from Dylan Hartley.

Along the way, Ireland were diving in offside and they lost flanker Pete O’Mahony to the sin bin.

But a much-needed England try came in the 32nd minute, as Farrell dabbed a kick behind Keith Earls, and Daly scored to trim Ireland’s lead to 14-5.

Watson went off with a twisted ankle and Sexton followed him for a head injury assessment after stemming a flow of blood from his nose.

Eddie Jones has some serious repair work to do (Getty Images)

As time ticked past 40 minutes, some teams might have kicked the ball out and regrouped.

But Ireland kept playing and worked a brilliant third try for the tournament’s top scorer, Jacob Stockdale.

The 21-year-old Ulsterman was set free by a neat short pass from Kearney, chipped over Watson’s replacement Mike Brown, and controlled the ball with his knees before grounding superbly just before the dead-ball line.

It took Stockdale to seven tries in this tournament, one clear of the record for tries in a Six Nations season since Italy joined in 2000, and one behind the all-time Championship record held by Cyril Lowe from 1914 and Ian Smith (1925).

Ireland scored two first-half tries (Getty Images)

And questions were immediately raised over the length of the in-goal area, amid reports the home team had asked for it to be lengthened, and Stockdale scoring in the area added.

Joey Carbery, on for Sexton temporarily, added a fine conversion for 21-5, and as in Scotland three weeks ago, England had been hit with three tries in the first half.

England lacked the power carries demanded by Jones when he made seven changes for this match, including Kyle Sinckler at tighthead prop, Ben Te’o at inside centre and Sam Simmonds at No.8.

None of them showed much as carriers and England, low on confidence, had failed to keep handling moves going in a biting breeze and swirling snow, while missing space out wide when they had reached the Ireland 22.

Sexton kicks a penalty (Getty Images)

The second opened with Daly penalised for a neck roll on Kearney, and England had conceded a few with players including Sinckler and Brown either off their feet or killing the ball, while the breakdown woes continued with Ireland’s back row including the dynamic Dan Leavy having success in counter-rucking.

Conor Murray kicked a penalty for Jamie George, just on for England’s captain Dylan Hartley, not rolling away and Ireland had 19 points’ advantage to play with going into the final quarter.

George Ford had replaced Jonathan Joseph for England, too, but there are bound to be alarmed cals for a greater shake-up in selection when the red rose heads to South Africa on tour in June.

Jones’s beef has been a slow adjustment to referees’ interpretation and, if there is anything in that, the Australian has time now to ponder how to put it right or maybe wonder at the inability of some to catch up.

England were not good enough to stop Ireland (Getty Images)

The always dangerous Daly grabbed his second try, from a loop play by Ford and neat out-the-side pass by Brown, with 64 minutes gone but Farrell’s touchline conversion was off target.

Carbery missed a penalty on 70 minutes while England finally had one of the popular pundits’ picks, Don Armand, on the field.

The Exeter back-rower had talked during the week of England being hungry but from first to last here Ireland were ravenous piling into rucks and supporting the ball-carrier: a team on top in their pomp lording it over one who need to draw breath, hope Billy Vunipola gets fit to return at No.8 and find lorry-loads of fresh inspiration.

Jonny May’s added-time try from Te’o’s pass was not even enough for a losing bonus for England who were consigned to waiting for the result of Wales versus France to find out how low they might go in the final standings.