PARIS – Six Nations champion England completed its first Grand Slam in 13 years after beating France 31-21 in an error-strewn finale on Saturday.
England, handed the title last weekend after France lost to Scotland, scored three tries to none but kept giving away kickable penalties to keep France in the match until, with four minutes to go, France prop Xavier Chiocci was sin-binned and Owen Farrell kicked England into a safe 10-point lead.
At that point, the considerable contingent of England fans in the Stade de France broke out into a searing rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” all the way to the final whistle.
Also not missing out on the celebrations was England captain Dylan Hartley, who was carried off on a stretcher with his neck braced with more than 10 minutes remaining, but returned to lift the trophy.
Led by new coach Eddie Jones, England has undergone a remarkably swift transformation. Most of the team was involved in the dismal Rugby World Cup campaign at the start of the season, but Jones made them harder, and fitter. Victory has bred confidence, and vice versa.
“Everyone’s ecstatic to be the most dominant team in Europe. But that’s only a first step for us,” Jones said. “Can we beat the All Blacks? Of course we can. We can’t now, but we will in the near future.”
Wales routed winless Italy 67-14 to finish second, and Ireland beat Scotland 35-25 for third. France placed fifth, in the bottom half for a fifth straight year.
“There is a gap between us and England. Their players are much more rigorous than ours,” France coach Guy Noves said. “We felt that in the second half. We were dominated in the rucks and the lineouts.”
England failed in its last two attempts to win the Grand Slam, in 2011 and 2013, but was far more confident this time, if a little nervy. It got the job done despite giving away 14 penalties, of which Maxime Machenaud slotted half.
“Mentally, we were too worried about the result,” Jones said. “It was always going to be difficult, having already won the Six Nations and coming to play a French team with nothing to lose.”
France threatened when it got the ball to left winger Virimi Vakatawa, but on defense, it was sloppy.
“I can’t say I’m happy to finish fifth, but as a coach I look at the content,” said Noves, who replaced coach Philippe Saint-Andre after the World Cup. “I’m disappointed for the players because I know how much they’ve given. We’re at the start of a new project.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5