The Ireland Women’s challenge fell away in the final quarter at Donnybrook tonight as England secured their first Women’s Six Nations title since 2012 with a comprehensive 34-7 win.
England's move to professionalism this season was really evident as they burned off the hosts in this Grand Slam decider, rattling off tries from Laura Keates (53 minutes), Amy Cokayne (62), Emily Scarratt (69) and Lydia Thompson (74).
A third try of the campaign from hooker Leah Lyons, arguably Ireland's player of the Championship, was their only response as England's strong bench had the desired impact in front of a passionate 6,105-strong crowd.
There was real hope for Ireland when they trailed 5-0 at half-time despite playing into a swirling wind and rain. Amy Wilson Hardy's 17th-minute try was the only score of what had been a tight contest.
However, Tom Tierney's side had no points to show for their first half scrum dominance and a couple of gilt-edged maul opportunities in either half. Turnovers allowed clinical England to break clear on the scoreboard, particularly when Irish replacement Mairead Coyne was in the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on.
Suitably fired up for a strong start, Ireland won the game's first scrum against the head and forced a couple of lineout errors – 50-cap lock Marie Louise Reilly was a constant threat on opposition ball – as nerves were evident in the English ranks.
As expected the hosts struggled for territory when facing into the elements, and the English backs began to exploit some space out wide. Important tackles from Hannah Tyrrell and the outstanding Jenny Murphy held them at bay.
Influential centre Scarratt pushed a penalty effort to the left and wide, however it was her long skip pass which played winger Wilson Hardy in for her try in the right corner. Prop Rochelle Clark was prominent as a carrier in sucking in the Irish defence beforehand.
The conversion was missed by Scarratt and although England remained on the front foot, another scrum won by Ireland against the head and the combination of Alison Miller, who had threatened on a run up to halfway previously, and Claire Molloy forced a relieving ruck penalty.
However, the usually reliable Nora Stapleton let England off the hook when her attempted touchfinder went dead after a terrific maul had set up the initial penalty.
The final 10 minutes of the first half saw Scarratt find a brilliant touch deep in Irish territory, however tremendous tackling and hounding from centre Murphy dragged the girls in green downfield.
Ireland spent the last five minutes of the half sniffing out a try, using their maul and the hard-carrying Lindsay Peat and Sophie Spence to very good effect. A switch move almost saw Sene Naoupu get in under the posts, but a vital tackle from Marlie Packer denied her.
Captain Paula Fitzpatrick was also held up after she attacked off a scrum and England secured turnover ball from the subsequent set piece, referee Alhambra Nievas allowing them to push before the feed.
Errors blunted both sides' attacks on the resumption, but Ireland were at their sharpest when openside Molloy's lovely footwork and well-timed pass in midfield released Murphy up into the English 22. Frustratingly for the vocal home support, Simon Middleton's charges thwarted the subsequent maul and kept their defensive line intact.
The momentum shifted in the 52nd minute as key forward Molloy had to go off injured and Scarratt's kick and chase saw England force a penalty out of Kim Flood. They had lineout and scrum opportunities and although the likes of Fitzpatrick and Miller were heroic in defence, replacement prop Keates duly nipped over from a ruck for her side’s second try. Scarratt’s conversion came back off the post.
With their scrum looking more solid and player-of-the-match Harriet Millar-Mills to the fore, the English backs had an improved platform to play off. Coyne then saw yellow for knocking on a pass from the fast-breaking Scarratt with another try looming.
Scarratt took the three points on offer before a wayward kick from Stapleton near halfway was ruthlessly turned into England’s third try of the night. Keates sent Scarratt breaking away and her delayed pass allowed hooker Cokayne to show impressive pace on a run to the line. Suddenly it was 20-0.
Highfield clubwoman Lyons gave Ireland something to build on when she barged over from a close-in ruck, her 66th-minute try – converted by Tyrrell – coming on the back of strong carries from powerful replacement Ilse van Staden, Spence, Fitzpatrick and Murphy.
But England’s greater strength in depth warded off the hosts' comeback hopes with two more converted tries. Danielle Waterman initiated a thrilling counter attack up the left wing that ended with Scarratt cantering in behind the posts with 11 minutes remaining.
The scoring was wrapped up by replacement back Thompson in the 74th minute as she scooted in from halfway as Ireland's increasingly brittle defence gave way again. A chastening defeat to end on and the final scoreline did not do the home side justice.
Nonetheless, with a home World Cup next on the agenda, the girls in green can be very proud of their four-from-five return for a second place finish in the Six Nations, with a number of newer players stepping up and delivering consistent performances.
TIME LINE: 15 minutes – England penalty: missed by Emily Scarratt – 0-0; 17 mins – England try: Amy Wilson Hardy – 0-5; conversion: missed by Emily Scarratt – 0-5; Half-time – Ireland 0 England 5; 53 mins – England try: Laura Keates – 0-10; conversion: missed by Emily Scarratt – 0-10; 58 mins – Ireland yellow card: Mairead Coyne – 0-10; 59 mins – England penalty: Emily Scarratt – 0-13; 62 mins – England try: Amy Cokayne – 0-18; conversion: Emily Scarratt – 0-20; 66 mins – Ireland try: Leah Lyons – 5-20; conversion: Hannah Tyrrell – 7-20; 69 mins – England try: Emily Scarratt – 7-25; conversion: Emily Scarratt – 7-27; 74 mins – England try: Lydia Thompson – 7-32; conversion: Emily Scarratt – 7-34; Full-time – Ireland 7 England 34
Referee: Alhambra Nievas (Spain)