England 15 Ireland 24: Red Rose wilt again as Ireland claim historic Grand Slam
SUDDENLY, St Patrick has a new rival for claiming March 17 all as his own - while Eddie Jones' England are in all sorts of trouble.
Ireland claimed only the third Grand Slam in their history as rookie sensation Jacob Stockdale became the toast of the entire nation with a record-breaking performance that also helped complete England’s woeful 6 Nations.
Ulster winger Stockdale - in his first such championship and still just 21 - became the first player to ever score seven tries in the competition and, remarkably, took his tally to 11 in his opening nine Tests.
How misfiring England - losing a third successive game and the first at Twickenhanm since Jones took over in 2015 - could have done with such confidence at times today.
Stockdale’s quality finish in first-half injury-time, latching onto Conor Murray’s clever shortside pass and then chipping over Mike Brown before kneeing on to touch down, gave Ireland a 21-5 interval lead they never looked like relinquishing.
Their first Grand Slam was as long ago as 1948, their second coming in 2009, with current captain Rory Best the only survivor from that vintage.
England may have been back-to-back Six Nations winners in the last two years under Jones but Ireland fully deserve this glory being far and away the best side in the competition.
Clearly, much of the build-up centred on Jones’ ill-conceived “scummy Ireland” comments and his decision to make five changes to the side that lost in Paris.
In all fairness, though, Joe Schmidt’s team - with excellent tighthead Tadhg Furlong claiming man-of-the-match - didn’t need any further encouragement to complete the clean sweep having already cemented the title a week earlier against Scotland.
And those changes - including dropping George Ford, Dan Cole and Joe Launchbury to the bench - clearly didn’t have the desired effect for Jones either as his disorganised side crumbled again to suddenly intensify the pressure ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Indeed, they were grateful to Jonny May’s 80th minute try, after finally finding some cohesiveness, to give the scoreline a glossier finish.
From the moment Ireland lock Iain Henderson steamrolled over the usually-steely Owen Farrell in the opening exchanges, it seemed like it would be the visitors’ day.
Moreover, they scored the first of their three tries as early as the sixth minute, too, Anthony Watson - preferred to Mike Brown at full-back - getting things horribly wrong as he challenged for Jonathan Sexton’s high kick.
Centre Garry Ringrose proitted with the try, Sexton slotting the extras, although replays suggested Rob Kearney’s hand may have slightly nudged the ball forward when climbing high with Watson.
Nevertheless, England looked uneasy; Farrell fired a downfield kick straight into the back of James Haskell’s head to concede a scrum and then George Kruis also came up with poor fumble in their own half.
Even when Sexton struck an upright with a simple 35m penalty from in front of the posts, it turned in Ireland’s favour.
Moments later, British Lion Furlong slipped Bundee Aki through a vacant midfield with a lovely pass and the muscular centre supplied CJ Stander who just managed to find the goalline despite the best efforts of Richard Wigglesworth and a post.
Sexton made it 14-0 to the visitors but England managed to finally force some pressure as they won back a short restart and Aki was penalised for an illegal tackle on Elliot Daly.
From there, Jones’ side went to the corner three times as Ireland continued to struggle with their line-out drive, Peter O’Mahony eventually dispatched to the sin-bin for collapsing another maul in the 29th minute.
Eventually England got over, Farrell’s grubber exploiting the space for Daly to score, but Watson was injured in the previous play after Farrell’s break and he had to depart.
Along with O’Mahony, bloodied Sexton was also off for a HIA so there was perfect opportunity for the hosts to add to their score with so much disruption in the Irish ranks.
However, the opposition pack operated superbly to see out that critical 10 minutes, preventing Maro Itoje getting the ball to ground as England looked to get going up front again.
From the resultant scrum, England tighthead Kyle Sinckler - another of those big changes to the starting line-up - was penalised for leaning in, easing the pressure on their rivals yet again.
O’Mahony returned and moments later Stockdale was over for his record-breaking score, Joey Carberry nailing the touchline conversion to leave the Irish firmly in control.
Earls denied Daly with a crucial tap-tackle at the start of the second period before the England winger, with the Irish under pressure on their own line, was penalised for illegally clearing out a ruck with his side in possession.
It was the sort of error which hamstring England for much of the afternoon.
Murray struck a penalty in the 61st minute and though Daly did add his second try soon after following a smart flick pass from Brown it was only a fleeting moment of class as their horrors of Edinburgh and Paris continued.
England: Watson (Brown 34); May, Joseph (Ford 56), Te’o, Daly; Farrell, Wigglesworth (Care 62); M Vunipola (Marler 53), Hartley (George 58), Sinckler (Cole 53), Itoje, Kruis (Launchbury 71), Robshaw, Haskell, Simmonds (Armand 66).
Ireland: Kearney; Earls (Marmion 74), Ringrose, Aki (Larmour 56), Stockdale; Sexton (Carbery 34-40 Carberry 66), Murray; Healy (McGrath 51), Best (Cronin 65), Furlong (Porter 64), Ryan (Toner 66), Henderson, O’Mahony , Leavy, Stander.
Referee: Angus Gardner (ARU)