It was billed as the championship decider on Sunday in Dublin, and it ended with England as red hot favorites to win the Grand Slam, the Triple Crown and the RBS Six Nations title after their 12-6 win in a Dublin downpour on Sunday.
An Irish side that had offered heroics against Wales a week earlier retreated back into its shell on an abject day for all concerned as coach Declan Kidney was left to pick up the pieces with his job now on the line.
Simon Zebo’s season was over after 10 minutes of this game to forget for the home fans. Jonny Sexton lasted just 31 minutes before the hamstring injury that threatens his chances of playing against Scotland on Sunday, February 24.
And Ireland’s championship hopes were all but extinguished as they gave up on the slam and the Triple Crown in a day when all 18 points were scored with the boot, the majority of them by England’s ice cool youngster Owen Farrell.
Ireland never looked like creating a try scoring chance, never mind taking one, as they were dominated in the pack and failed to take advantage when England’s James Haskell was sin-binned in the second half.
With his contract up at the end of the season it was a worrying afternoon for Kidney, who must now mastermind wins over Scotland, Italy and France in the remaining games and hope England slip.
Ireland will have to win those games without Zebo and with a different approach to their attacking game, a game that was almost non-existent on a very wet Sunday at the Aviva.
England led 6-0 at the break thanks to two penalties from Farrell on a day when possession was at a premium.
Substitute Ronan O’Gara did bring the home side level with two penalties of his own in the second half, in the 44th and 57th minutes, but they never kicked on from there.
Instead it was Farrell who wrapped the tie up for the visitors, kicking over again in the 62nd and 65th minutes as England held on for a first win in Dublin since 2003.
Afterwards captain Jamie Heaslip refused to make excuses for a poor Irish display. “I don’t want to blame the conditions because both teams played in them,” he said.
“There were a lot of knock ons and unforced errors. I don’t know what caused all the errors. It was frustrating and we constantly tried to regroup and go again. England played a good pressure game.”
Ireland prop Mike Ross added, “We’ll spend the next couple of days feeling sorry for ourselves but then we’ve got a big test in two weeks against Scotland.
“They haven’t been going badly. I don’t think they’re as bad as they were against England and they played better against Italy. It’s going to be another big challenge for us, especially over there.”
England coach Stuart Lancaster was delighted with the win in Dublin, his team’s first on Irish soil in 10 years.
He said, “When you have the conditions as they were it was going to be a tight game and down to small margins.
“To come here with a young side and show that kind of maturity to close the game out was hugely pleasing.
“It is a very difficult to play rugby against experienced players when we have lads on single figures in terms of caps. It is great testament to their maturity.”
Ireland: Kearney; Gilroy, O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Zebo; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best, Ross, McCarthy, Ryan, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip. Replacements: Earls for Zebo (10 mins), O’Gara for Sexton (31 mins), O’Callaghan for O’Brien (65 mins), Henry for Ryan (66 mins), S Cronin for Healy (74 mins), Kilcoyne for Best (74 mins), Fitzgerald for Ross (78 mins).