England seal Six Nations title to tee up Grand Slam opportunity
PUBLISHED: 21:16 13 March 2016 | UPDATED: 21:16 13 March 2016
England ended their run of four successive runners-up finishes by being crowned Six Nations champions in Eddie Jones’ debut campaign as head coach – thanks to Scotland.
A thrilling 25-21 victory over Wales at Twickenham on Saturday, followed by Scotland’s 29-18 home win against France on Sunday, guaranteed England a first title since 2011 with a round to spare.
Norfolk’s Ben Youngs – winning his 56th cap – continued his good form at scrum-half to become one of just five players surviving from that 2011 team to add a second title to their CV, alongside skipper Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, James Haskell and Danny Care.
England will complete their Six Nations in Paris on Saturday night and victory would result in the Grand Slam – an achievement which for the Red Rose was last managed in 2003.
Jones admits the celebrations at the squad’s Surrey training base will be restrained as he sets his players’ sights on a clean sweep.
“The emotions were a bit mixed to be honest,” the Australian told the BBC.
“It’s obviously nice to win the championship, but as a team we feel like we haven’t achieved what we want to achieve and that’s the Grand Slam.
“If we prepare well, we’ll do the business. We’ll go to Paris confident.
“France were always going to be a difficult side and they showed at times against Scotland that they can play sublime rugby.
“At other times it’s not so sublime, so we need to make sure they don’t have too many sublime moments. Winning the title is a fantastic achievement by the team.
“The squad is still very much the same one from the World Cup, so that squad has changed themselves and the real credit goes to the players.”
England had to survive a late fightback to earn a fourth successive win under Jones.
Wales were as dominant in the final 20 minutes as England were the first 60, but having seen his team survive Cole’s late yellow card as the visitors threatened a stunning recovery, Jones insisted they had come some way to redeeming themselves for their World Cup showing under his predecessor Stuart Lancaster.
“We’re four from four,” said Jones, whose team risked undermining their impressive opening hour when conceding converted tries to Wales’ Dan Biggar, George North and Taulupe Faletau.
“England played Wales in the World Cup in September. If you’d said five months afterwards we’d be ahead 25-7 after 60 minutes against Wales, then you’d be pretty happy. We won the game 25-21, and we’ve won.
“We’re a new team, we weren’t the old team, we’ve moved on, we played differently, thought differently – we played a bit like the old team in the last 20 minutes.
“What was significant was our first 60 minutes. I thought we played really well, with a lot of precision, were tactically smart, physical. In the last 20 of the game, which is a good learning experience for us – we had to defend with 14 men at the end – but to get a win over Wales...
“Tactically in the last 20 we sat back. Instead of keep attacking them we stopped. When we attacked them they really struggled to deal with us. When we sat back we struggled, so it’s a really good lesson.
“It’s not (a lack of) fitness, it’s more about trying to protect the lead rather than trying to increase the lead. If we’d played with the same intent we did the first 60, we’d have won that game by a lot more.
“It’s all about better decision making. You get better by practising at training and that’s what we’ll do, so we’ll get there.”
The impressive performance of Maro Itoje, inset left, was particularly significant in that the lock was named man of the match in only his second Test start.
Second row has long been one of the positions in which England have lacked stability, but Jones said of the 21-year-old’s performance: “I thought he played very well, he worked hard at his game and did a lot of things we’ve asked him to do. It was a very good performance from him.”