Ireland pounce on wobbling England to steal a march towards Japan 2019

TWICKENHAM, London -- The class of 2018 now join those 1948 and 2009 immortals as Ireland won, comfortably, their third Grand Slam at the home of English rugby. And all on St Patrick's Day, emerald eyes smiling as the party began tentatively at half-time and then exploded into life in the second half with the scoreboard heavily weighted in Joe Schmidt's side's favour.

In the 49th minute, Twickenham was drowned out by Fields of Athenry, the famous old stadium rocking to the Irish folk ballad. Only then did the English supporters find their voice. What followed was England being penalised in the scrum. Twickenham erupted again. This was the men in green's day as England narrowly avoided their worst ever home defeat in the tournament's 135-year history, Jonny May's late try staving off that indignity for the back-to-back defending champions.

As Ireland celebrated their worthy triumph, England were left pondering exactly how they have managed to backpedal at the rate they have in this Six Nations. This was their worst Six Nations since 2006, their first defeat at home in the championship since 2012, and their first home reverse in the Eddie Jones era.

Back in February, before the championship started, this match was being billed as the Grand Slam decider. Now, though, there was only ever going to be one winner. Ireland controlled the match, repelled England's various attacks and struck with ruthless efficiency and accuracy. England left with two wins from five, Ireland with the clean sweep. How things can change over the course of a couple of years. As David Brent said, one day you are the pigeon, the next day you're the statue.

This was a championship where Ireland's next generation became the present. Jacob Stockdale now has a Six Nations record to his name as he scored his seventh try of the championship while James Ryan, Dan Leavy and Garry Ringrose put in heroic efforts. There is now a clear disparity in Ireland's class compared to England's. Ireland have improved while this has been one huge step backwards for Jones' side.

England lacked any penetration, and lost the gainline battle. They conceded stupid penalties again -- Maro Itoje and Elliot Daly perpetrators here -- and though they carried with ferocity, they failed to punch any holes in Ireland's defence. They showed ambition in going for the corner rather than the posts with penalties -- win or bust -- but their usually sturdy set piece was shaky with lineout throws and scrums going awry.

That 49th minute penalty was symptomatic of this performance. It came loosely from a penalty conceded by Daly a minute or two back after England had strung together a 16-phase move. It was a stupid penalty to give away, foolish, Ireland repelled the attack and then moved England back into their own half. All the while Schmidt smiled -- the Ireland coach has an astonishing record of delivering when it matters -- and Andy Farrell, Ireland's defence coach, kept that thousand-mile stare belonging to the finest defensive mind in world rugby.

All three of Ireland's tries showed why they are the best team in the northern hemisphere. There was no coincidence that Ireland's opening score came off a careless England penalty, given away by Owen Farrell for his late hit on Rob Kearney. A lineout followed, Johnny Sexton launched the ball into the frozen Twickenham air, Anthony Watson flapped with Kearney for the pill and Ringrose grounded it. Then came a first-phase set piece move of sheer beauty with Tadhg Furlong the link man as Conor Murray and Sexton teamed up to put Bundee Aki away who teed up CJ Stander.

Then came that man Stockdale, whose try meant he secured a spot in Six Nations history with the first man to score eight in one championship. He now has 10 in eight Tests, an incredible record. He chipped over the on-rushing England defence and then kneed it forward -- there looked to be more than just a touch of a hand potentially involved -- to dot the ball down with centimetres to spare. The RFU had asked for the dead-ball area to be extended. They got two metres and Stockdale took a try.

But apart from their execution, Ireland got the rub of the green from the referee and were fortunate to escape a first-half penalty try on their own line after four penalties, and Aki could have easily seen yellow for his shoulder-first hit on Daly. But referee Angus Gardner thought differently.

What we saw in Ireland here and in other moments during the championship are a team that has this unrivalled self-belief that they can win in whatever cauldron, in whatever conditions against any team. Sexton's last-gasp drop-goal in Paris back in round one -- how long ago that seems, Eddie's England had just one defeat to their name at that point -- showed that. From these foundations come World Cup charges. Japan 2019 lies 551 days away.

For England, now comes a grizzly post-mortem. Their shortcomings have been brutally exposed, their discipline a problem, their lack of power preventing any punch and they look short of ideas in attack. They have a fine coach in Jones but they now need to shift into the next phase of his tenure or risk being left behind with the World Cup ticking ever closer. This was one huge step backwards.

Grand Slams are fiercely hard to come by. This win shows how good a team Ireland are, but also what they can still become. They have this brilliant mix of brave young things and the old warriors who keep on adding further chapters to already glittering careers. As those in white traipsed out of Twickenham and the green remained, this Grand Slam may just be the sweetest of all.