SO much for the notion of giving England a game, for adding a spark to what looked like becoming a drab old Six Nations. Ireland blew the tournament wide open with a scintillating 19-13 victory that makes them the envy of every team in world rugby. To topple England's crown and to do it on the occasion of their triumphant homecoming. Does it get any sweeter than this?

The best part about it was that there wasn't an iota of good fortune involved. Doubtless there will be references to St Patrick's Day coming early, to the fact that Ireland like travelling to Twickenham on the fourth year in every decade (they have won here in 1964, '74 and '94 too). There may also be mentions of the fact that Ireland twice relied on the judgement of the video referee Huw Watkins to save them from conceding tries.

But luck had nothing to do with it. Ireland had the edge on England in just about every aspect of play and produced some superb rugby while they were at it. Best of all, Brian O'Driscoll ? the man with the prawn sandwich jibes ? could have one of his poorest games and still Ireland could win. They are now in the running for their first championship since 1985.

Beforehand, Eddie O'Sullivan said his team was lucky to be able to have a shot at the world champions once a year for the next four years. It sounded like standard prematch guff but O'Sullivan had formulated a strategy and managed to instill belief.

Just about everything went to plan and then a few other things worked out nicely too.

As expected, Iain Balshaw gave another unconvincing display at full-back and was hauled off. England's line-out wasn't just put under pressure; by the time he was called ashore in the second half, hooker Steve Thompson had been reduced to a quivering mess. Malcolm O'Kelly and Paul O'Connell obliterated their opposite numbers ? after this performance, it's mind-bending to think he was only playing because of injury to Donncha O'Callaghan.

As for the scrum, the idea was for Ireland to try and hold their own at best. The scrum wobbled occasionally and those wobbles had a fair bit to do with England's 10point splurge in the second quarter. But thereafter it held firm.

Ireland also won the battle of the middle five. Once Matt Dawson was stymied at source, his game unfolded, while Ronan O'Gara, despite an horrendous early penalty miss, grew in composure, converting his next five kicks at goal from progressively difficult angles.

The collisions at the breakdown were seismic but again, Ireland edged the back row contest. Anthony Foley was majestic on the occasion of his 50th cap (Will Greenwood, the other half-century man, was rather less conspicuous), while Simon Easterby and Keith Gleeson outplayed their exalted opposite numbers. The Lions tour may be still 15 months off but certain markers were laid down yesterday.

A case in point is Gordon D'Arcy. Already, he is being touted as the find of the tournament, and justifiably so. It wasn't just his footwork that undid England ? especially in the lead-up to Girvan Dempsey's stunning secondhalf try ? it was that marblehipped ability to bounce some of the best defenders in the world. To top it off, there was a potentially match-saving tackle on Ben Cohen just after the break. Not bad for someone who didn't make it to the World Cup. And how fitting that D'Arcy have the honour of booting the ball high into the West Stand for the last kick of the game (this, his captain will be pleased to hear, is where the majority of Twickenham's prawnsandwich brigade reside).

Ireland captain O'Driscoll described the win as one of the best days of his rugby life.

He said: "Four years unbeaten and coming back as world champions, it makes it one of the top three days if not the number one." "We always knew it would be tough coming over here but we are capable of beating any side in the world if we perform to the best of our ability. I am not saying we were at our very best today but we were pretty close to it.

"But it probably doesn't surprise us as much as it surprises everybody else." Next up, Ireland face an Italian side buoyant after their 20-14 victory over Scotland in Rome earlier yesterday. This, the Azzurri's third Six Nations win since joining the championship four years ago, effectively keeps their coach John Kirwan in a job but puts Scotland coach Matt Williams under real pressure only three games into his reign.

Williams does have genuine cause to complain about the match officials, who allowed a controversial try by Fabien Ongaro early in the second half. The television video replay showed clearly that the Italian hooker failed to get downward pressure but referee Nigel Whitehouse didn't think it necessary to seek a second opinion.

Meanwhile, a brave Irish women's team were overpowered 51-10 by England.

Disappointing, but there were a few other compensations later in the day.