Ireland make it the perfect ten as they crush England
The dream is still alive. Ireland went three-from-three by out-thinking England 19-9 in the The Aviva Stadium yesterday.
At last, all the talk came to a grinding halt. This was the 129th fixture between these two nations, Ireland out to seal their 47th win by whatever means necessary.
There was nothing left to do but take to the green field to defend the hopes and wishes of a country.
This would not be - was never going to be - the championship decider. The banana skins left for Ireland will be shaded in red and the blue of Scotland.
All of this made not a smidgeon of difference to Ireland as they set about stiffing England for the first time at the fifth attempt.
The rain tumbling down in the mid-morning, turning to snow in the early afternoon, would have cheered no one, except the meteorologists who called it right.
England brought the juggernaut to town with a few Ferraris fresh off the production line.
The preamble was all about out-half George Ford and especially centre Jonathan Joseph in the same way the South Arican international back in November was bunched around their prodigious fly-half Handre Pollard.
This was not a day for the gifted. It was one for rolling the sleeves up and applying slavish application to the details hot-wired into all players.
Ultimately, Ireland controlled Billy Vunipola, for the most part, shut down Ford and Joseph and opened up England often enough for Robbie Henshaw to claim his first try for Ireland, the first by an Irish centre since the summer tour to Canada in 2013.
In the beginning, George Ford took the first of Conor Murray's bombs, was tackled by Tommy Bowe and was sloppy in his ball placement.
Devin Toner, no less, plunged to earth from a height.
The ball was moved left. James Haskell was slow to roll. Jonathan Sexton kicked Ireland to the lead in the second minute.
Then, Vunipola was in at the side of a ruck for another penalty. Sexton spiraled it away for 60 metres and his lofted ball was too much for Bowe and Jack Nowell, Goode cleaning up into touch and goal.
This signalled the first scrum. It was rock solid. Robbie Henshaw, Conor Murray, Rory Best battered away. Joubert stood in Murray's passing line as Ireland held an overlap.
There was creativity from Henshaw in tight space. Sean O'Brien was stopped short. The penalty came. There was a brief discussion. Sexton doubled the lead.
England were quick to respond. Nowell's clever kick forced Zebo to concede a lineout and Ford dropped to the pocket to pick up three points.
The Irish did not retire 10 metres from Rob Kearney's kick to invite the first of two penalties, the second of which Toner rose high to steal at the back.
Sean O'Brien charged out of defence and was concussed in his haste in the 24th minute.
The stamp of Joe Schmidt was all over this. Sexton shot up on Ford. The pass was hurried. Luther Burrell was pinned by Sexton. The holding call came. Sexton's penalty made it 9-3 in the 30th minute
Number eight Jordi Murphy was growing into the game, highlighted by his poach on Robshaw.
Ireland were showing ingenuity, especially with their half-backs as the pivot players using Henshaw as a source of go-forward.
Ireland had to keep going forward and not lapse into hold-what-we-have mode. The next score really would be crucial.
There was fleet of foot and mind about Ireland, with Sexton as the the instigator.
England couldn't keep their cool at a ruck. Sexton made it 12-3 in the 48th minute.
Ireland's dominance at the scrum earned a personal badge of honour for Mike Ross and the pack.
A bomb ball Murray was turned to gold by Bowe's chase and contest. Tone picked up the pieces. Sexton angled the kick for Zebo.
The pressure was lifting. And more.
Kearney was taken too high. Murray's chip-to-nothing was fielded and planted by Henshaw in a master move. Sexton's conversion made it 19-3 in the 53rd minute.
That was the game, although Ireland lost shape when Sexton was removed.
All the while, England were making gains by stealth.
Ford posted his third penalty in the 68th minute.
The sheer physical power of the visitors was beginning to take its toll, with Nowell as their sneak attacker. They were in gear when Nick Easter carried into Billy Twelvetrees.
There was a reminder of New Zealand 2013 in the way Ireland chose to recycle monotonously until Joubert lost his patience, awarding England a penalty.
This time, Ireland held firm and form for a record-equalling 10th straight victory.