IN the end it was 20 minutes too far. Ireland looked like they had one foot in the semi-finals last night, but collapsed in the final quarter as the toll of their efforts caught up with them in Stellenbosch.
Having stunned the hosts South Africa on Monday, Mike Ruddock sent the same young men into battle and refused to freshen up his team until after it was too late.
The Grand Slam winners had already changed their side from their facile opening win over Italy and had almost emptied their bench after 60 minutes when they came back from 15-6 down with two tries in five minutes that devastated Ireland.
It had started so well in conditions more like an AIL back pitch than one befitting such a prestigious competition.
Trailing to a Tom Heathcote penalty, Ruddock's charges took the initiative as Barry Daly broke Will Addison's tackle and was stopped short of the line. Ireland recycled and after two phases JJ Hanrahan stepped inside the cover and barged over.
The Castleisland fly-half, playing well in front of new Munster coach Rob Penney, whose New Zealand team had earlier lost to Wales, converted his own try and things got better minutes later when Addison and George Merrick were sin-binned in quick succession and Kieran Marmion heaped pain on England by scooting over in the corner from Jack Conan's pass.
Hanrahan added a penalty to make it 15-3 at the break, but Heathcote cancelled out that score in the opening minutes of the second half. The English reinforcements came into the fray and Ireland wilted. After a succession of infringements they buckled under pressure and handed England a penalty try as Shane Buckley was sent to the bin. Heathcote's conversion narrowed the gap to two.
And they went in front after Hanrahan ran himself into trouble and Marmion lost ground with a scrambling kick, handing the initiative to the English who mauled the ball from the line-out and Kyle Sinckler crashed over, Heathcote adding the touchline conversion.
Ireland rallied, but couldn't get near levelling and their chances of a last four spot receded despite the bonus point. It was a mammoth effort, but they just didn't have enough in the tank.
Ireland -- P Nelson (S Olding 77); B Daly, F Horan, C Farrell, S Coghlan Murray (J Carty 67); JJ Hanrahan, K Marmion (L McGrath 73); D Merrey, N Scannell (capt) (J Rael 73), T Furlong; T Beirne, I Henderson; J Coghlan, C Gilsenan (S Buckley 28) (A O'Connor 77), J Conan.
England -- T Bell; M Yarde, W Addison (B Ransom 52), R Mills (capt), Charlie Walker (S Hill h-t); T Heathcote, B Spencer (D Robson 52); A Hepburn (L Cowan-Dickie 52), K Britton (M Crumpton 59), K Sinckler; D Barrow, G Merrick (S Twomey 59); D Sisi (Chris Walker 52), B Nutley, J Clifford.
REF -- L Van Der Merwe (South Africa).