England fell 13-9 at a boisterous Aviva Stadium as Ireland produced the type of Grand Slam ambush at which they excel, bringing the 2017 championship to a scruffy yet compelling climax.
Head coach Eddie Jones had encouraged England to embrace “greatness” after Scotland were overwhelmed with seven tries, but the opportunity to seize a unique place in history by eclipsing New Zealand’s 18-Test record winning run was missed.
The ambition of claiming successive Grand Slams for the first time in the Six Nations era was foiled by Jones’s maiden loss as head coach, but England had already been crowned champions with a round to spare.
“Be proud of yourselves, boys,” was the Australian’s message after Ireland had saved their best performance of the tournament for its finale.
“We are Six Nations champions, back-to-back, which is a fantastic achievement.
“We’re joint world record holders, but we weren’t good enough against Ireland – and we have to accept we weren’t good enough.
“Obviously we are disappointed, but we will fight another day. It is not the end of the world.”
It was a measured response from a coach who three weeks earlier seethed as Italy’s no-rucking tactics at Twickenham induced a fog of confusion among his players that left them open to ridicule and also delivered the quote of the Six Nations.
England emerged convincing winners, but Jones raged against the Azzurri for using tactics that he claimed were at odds with the spirit of the game, demanding the laws be changed as a result.
Few outside the Red Rose camp agreed with him, however, and media duties were curtailed as he circled the wagons like only he can.
The ultimate prize was denied by Ireland, who were clearly superior on the day, but England’s transformation from the rabble that slumped to the worst World Cup performance by a host nation less than 18 months ago into a genuine threat to New Zealand owes everything to the 57-year-old Tasmanian.