London – England may have won their first Six Nations title in five years last weekend but that will count for little with new coach Eddie Jones if they fail to complete a Grand Slam against France in Paris on Saturday.
Jones succeeded where predecessor Stuart Lancaster – sacked after England’s first-round exit at last year’s World Cup followed four successive runners-up finishes in the Six Nations – failed by guiding the Red Rose to Europe’s premier international rugby union title at his first attempt.
England’s 25-21 win over Wales at Twickenham on Saturday gave their Australian boss a perfect four from four record, while Scotland’s 29-18 defeat of France at Murrayfield 24 hours later ensured they secured the title with a round to spare.
For all their financial muscle and playing resources, England have not completed a Grand Slam since their World Cup-winning year of 2003, when Jones was in charge of beaten finalists Australia, and only victory at the Stade de France will satisfy their current coach.
“We want to achieve the Grand Slam and we haven’t done that yet,” said Jones, who enhanced his reputation at last year’s World Cup by guiding Japan to a shock win over rugby giants South Africa.
Reflecting on England’s immediate post-match reaction to surviving a late Welsh rally after his team had enjoyed a comfortable 25-7 lead until the final six minutes, Jones said: “I saw Dylan Hartley (the England captain) and we didn’t know whether to give each other a hug or just get on with business.”
However, reflecting on the fact that England could now call themselves Six Nations champions for the first time since 2011, Jones said: “It’s a fantastic achievement and credit goes to the players in the squad because they’ve changed themselves.”
England’s success this season has been achieved with largely the same group of players who suffered the crushing disappointment of an early World Cup exit following Twickenham defeats by Wales and Australia, the eventual losing finalists.
One of Jones’s first acts as England coach was to strip Chris Robshaw of the captaincy but he kept the Harlequins back-row in the side, albeit switching him to blindside flanker from the openside.
“He’s been absolutely outstanding,” said Jones of Robshaw. “To go from where he was at the end of the World Cup to where he is now is very fine.”
In contrast to Robshaw, Maro Itoje had not played for England until being given his international debut by Jones during the Six Nations.
Yet on Saturday, the 21-year-old lock, making just his second Test start, was deservedly named man-of-the-match after a commanding all-round display featuring line-out steals, textbook tackling, excellent ruck defence and the break that led to England’s lone try for wing Anthony Watson.
I’ve been trying to look after him, I’ve (limited) his exposure to the media but I’ve got to let him go now,” Jones said of Itoje.
“As long as he stays hungry and doesn’t get too far ahead of himself, he’s going to be a wonderful player.”