England wrapped up the RBS Women’s Six Nations title in record-breaking style with a 23-6 victory over Ireland in their sternest test of the Championship.
Elsewhere, France finished on a high note with a resounding win over Wales, while Scotland ended with the wooden spoon despite a valiant attempt away against Italy.
The Irish were level-pegging with England for almost an hour at Esher after Niamh Briggs and Katy McLean had exchanged penalties, and only some crunching tackles by Rachael Burford and Maggie Alphonsi kept Ireland from scoring a try as the first half finished 6-6.
An Emily Scarratt penalty edged England ahead and a try by captain McLean further swung the momentum their way before Amy Turner’s late try sealed the win.
It was England’s sixth Grand Slam in seven years – and a record seventh successive title – as they became the first side to go through the whole Championship without conceding a try.
England finished with stunning statistics of an average 32.2 points for and 2.4 against a match – in other words, on average sides failed to score even a penalty against them.
Although Ireland’s campaign ultimately ended in disappointment, Philip Doyle's side leads the European race for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 qualification.
England and France have qualified thanks to top-six finishes at the 2010 tournament, and the next best two sides after them across the 2012 and 2013 Six Nations will join them at France 2014.
England coach Gary Street said: “We expected this championship to be our toughest and it has been, and that can only be good for women’s rugby.”
Five-try France profit from pack to sink Wales
Elsewhere on the final weekend, France were simply too strong for Wales, crossing for five tries in their 31-0 win at Pandy Park in Cross Keys, although Rhian Bowden’s had side turned round only 12-0 down.
The French looked to capitalise on their big pack and as early as the fourth minute Gaelle Mignot was swept over the line.
The Welsh line remained under siege and French number 8 Audrey Forlani powered over from close range, with Aurelie Bailon’s conversion completing the first-half scoring.
The Welsh battled their way back into the match as two yellow cards took the wind out of French sails, but the visitors came back with tries from Mignot, Caroline Ladagnous and a solo effort from Elodie Portaries that began on the 22 and saw her drag half the Welsh pack with her over the line. Jessy Tremouliere added two conversions.
Scots rediscover try-scoring touch but Italy prevail
Scotland wings Lauren Harris and Sarah Dixon drew the applause of an appreciative crowd of more than 1,500 in Rovato (Brescia) but could do little to stop Italy running out 29-12 winners.
A conversion from Lisa Ritchie provided the Scots’ only other points as defeat consigned them to last place on the ladder for the second year in a row, again without a victory to their names.
Italy’s big pack proved a decisive factor and Scotland head coach Karen Findlay bemoaned her players’ failure to raise the tempo until it was too late, though the tries were some consolation.
"It was really important for our players to see that if you execute properly, that's what the outcome can be so I was delighted for the two individuals concerned and that the rest of the team got points on the board," she said.
Tries by Manuela Furlan, Michela Este and Vanessa Chindamo made it 17-0 at half time, with Veronica Schiavon adding a conversion.
There was more vigour in the Scots’ approach after the break, resulting in Scotland’s first tries of the Championship, but the Italians added further tries from Chiara Castellarin and Cristina Molic.
The Italian spectators were generous in their applause, particularly when full back Stephanie Johnston put in a gutsy tackle on Italian second row Flavia Severin.