Joe Schmidt's Irish evolution rolls through Twickenham on a wave of green

Ireland players celebrate after clinching the Grand Slam and securing their place as the northern hemisphere's most dominant team, 18 months out from the next Rugby World Cup. Steve Bardens - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

TWICKENHAM, London -- Travelling through south-west London on Saturday morning towards the world's most famous cabbage patch, it was clear that few Irish fans had heeded the Rugby Football Union's warning not to buy second-hand tickets. More lined the streets looking for spares.

The lure of a Grand Slam victory on St. Patrick's Day was too much to ignore despite fees on re-sale sites hitting an eye-watering £4,400 earlier this week. But as those supporters settled into their expensive seats it did not take long for the decision to be made worthwhile.

Ireland blitzed England in a first-half performance full of composure, confidence and plain game-management. Their hosts by contrast were ponderous and nervous for the third game in a row.

The visiting players rightly soaked up the adulation of the thousands of Irish fans who had found a way into Twickenham at full-time, coach Joe Schmidt left to marvel at the country's third ever clean sweep and the first for which he was the lead architect.

"[It's] more relief than anything else, it always is in these moments because you're willing it to happen so much, you're wanting players to go out and deliver what they're capable of," Schmidt said of his emotion at the final whistle. "There's a mix of pride as well."

His opposite number, Eddie Jones, was once again magnanimous in defeat. "Pleased for Ireland, thought they played exceptionally well," he said.

"[They are a] good, tough side, well coached. Good leadership from the players, good resolve. Excellent team."

Ireland have been magnificent over the past six weeks, but even so the players spoke afterwards about owing defence coach Andy Farrell a rearguard action on his return to Twickenham. The fans who attend Sunday's homecoming event at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin are sure to show their appreciation for a job more than well done.

That said, all good teams need certain situations to go their way and it is true that the big moments have been in Ireland's favour this Six Nations, either by luck or judgement.

Fortune played no part in the 40-plus-phase move that got Johnny Sexton into drop-goal range in Paris to win with the final play of the game as Ireland avoided a defeat that would have stopped their Grand Slam bid cold in week one.

Three weeks later, an interception at the death robbed Wales of a chance to do similar to them, while seven days ago they profited from slack Scotland handling.

At Twickenham, too, they saw momentum swing their way as TMO Ben Skeen missed an apparent knock on from Rob Kearney in the build-up to their opening try. Bundee Aki was lucky later in the half not to see yellow for a shoulder charge on Elliot Daly, but these are the moments that great teams need to go their way. And make no mistake, as Fields of Athenry rang out Twickenham late on, there was acceptance that we were watching such a side.

"I said all week that we'll be 100 percent committed but we'll need a bit of luck," Schmidt added. "I even mentioned Sir Alex Ferguson, I remember him speaking to Harvard and talking about how you need to get 'this, this and this' in order and then you need the luck.

"In really big games when you're up against a team who are at least good as you are, those moments, they make a difference."

The contrast in the relative evolution of the two sides was laid bare at a freezing Twickenham. England had come into the championship looking like the northern hemisphere side most likely to challenge New Zealand at the World Cup next year, but it is Ireland who head into the summer with the swagger of Conor McGregor.

As Anthony Watson struggled in a second straight outing at fullback, and the hosts again failed to stem the flow of their opposition at the breakdown, their visitors showed off the depth of their squad.

Garry Ringrose scored his side's first try as he put in another assured performance in the 13 jersey, Aki -- who only qualified for Ireland this season -- played a key role in the second and Jacob Stockdale stole the show with the third.

It had been Jordan Larmour that had been tipped to shine for Ireland this spring but as the excellent Rob Kearney patrolled the Twickenham turf from fullback, it was Stockdale who again flew the flag for the next generation of boys in green. The Ulsterman showed composure beyond his years to score his side's third try before the break, reacting quickly to the ball's ricochet of his knees to shrug off Mike Brown and reach the ball before it went dead.

Irony of ironies, it was England who decided to lengthen that area of their pitch. "It's just part of the game," was Jones' take when questioned about it after the match. In the process the Ireland wing became the first player to score seven tries in a single championship since Italy made it the Six Nations 18 years ago.

Stockdale, Ringrose and Aki will not push Ireland along the road to Japan on their own, either. James Ryan has been in brilliant form -- as highlighted by Devin Toner's demotion to the bench-- as has Dan Leavy. Larmour showed glimpses of his promise off the bench, while Tadhg Furlong, Jack McGrath, Joey Carbery and Robbie Henshaw are all still youngsters by Test standards.

This is an Ireland side that will keep improving and, possibly scrum-half aside, there are two if not three or four players in each position putting pressure on the man in possession of the jersey. That is how teams at the top level get better.

"This group has got a lot more in us," Larmour told reporters following his appearance as a replacement. "To keep working, keep improving, building towards the World Cup would be the main goal."

The challenge now facing Schmidt is how he manages that evolution over the next 18 months. Get it right and Ireland will arrive at the World Cup as genuine contenders, unburdened by the pressure that inflicted Irish squads of the past.

But they must keep winning, starting in Australia in June. Celebrations of the Grand Slam will rightly be long and loud but the players cannot be allowed to bask in their status as history makers, the focus must return to results almost instantly.

Rory Best, Kearney -- both survivors of the 2009 Grand Slam -- as well as Keith Earls, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray will be integral to that ideal. They know that completing a clean sweep does not make you world beaters, as they have the World Cup scars from 2011 and 2015 to prove it.

Keep the momentum rolling through Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney and on into the autumn, however, and this side's aspirations will have become loftier. The All Backs won't fear England on the evidence of the last six weeks but Ireland? With a 2016 win for the Irish in Chicago and an All Blacks win the last time they met in Dublin, who fancies a decider?