England Rugby - Grand Slam Winners.
As Nigel Owens blew the full time whistle at the Stade de France and Swing Low Sweet Chariot reverberated around the stadium the emotion poured out of England's players. Finally they'd achieved their goal and victory tasted even sweeter because France had made them work hard for it.
Eight weeks earlier this squad came together at Pennyhill Park and set their ambition for the tournament ahead; to become the most dominant side in Europe. Those outside of England's camp may have thought that after their World Cup woes it was too lofty and an unachievable goal. Yet, those involved knew that if they developed game-on-game and performed to their potential it was eminently possible.
So what of the final piece of the puzzle and the Grand Slam winning match itself? Well it was not the walkover that it could have been, instead France saved their best performance until last and made a game of it. Vakatawa was lively out wide, Guirado was his usual rumbustious self and as a collective the home side finally found some organisation in attack and defence. Yet England stayed focused, it wasn't the most beautiful game that we've see them deliver however they held their nerve and put the required points on the board.
England's second-row pairing were mesmeric; both George Kruis and Maro Itoje were athletic, confrontation and mightily efficient at the set piece. In the back row Chris Robshaw and James Haskell were unrelenting in their output and Ben Youngs sublime. Of course discipline remains a thorn in England's side and one that they need to sort out but when the result was a victory and a Grand Slam Title I'm loathed to pick too many holes in their output.
The importance of Saturday night's win and finally finishing the job cannot be underestimated. The fact is that if England had lost in Paris the wind would have been taken out of their sails and their improved performances during the tournament have counted for little. Instead victory has set the tone for the months and years to come.
There will be individuals that are saying that we're making too much of five victories and one Grand Slam title, however I firmly disagree. This England squad is very young, most of their starting XVs in the tournament had an average age of 24, and they are in the infancy of learning from a new management team. There's no denying that foundations laid by Stuart Lancaster and his team were strong ones but it's the prospect of this squad blooming under Eddie Jones' tutelage that fills you with excitement. The Australian's influence on their psychology and on their output on the field of play has been impressive. In a short space of time the players are flourishing and Eddie Jones has only scratched the surface of what he wants to do with them.
With a Grand Slam Title safely in the bag England's players will now return to their Aviva Premiership clubs for a busy few months. The schedule in unrelenting but it will be handled with the spring in their step that comes from winning. Meanwhile their coach will use the time to asses their progress so far, review all of his players and start to construct a game plan to face, and beat, Australia. Prior to this tournament a summer tour Down Under was a daunting prospect, now it becomes a hugely exciting one.
In a few short weeks England have played themselves into the history books and will take great satisfaction in being crowned the 2016 RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam Champions. But their head coach will keep their feet firmly the ground because in his eyes this Grand Slam is simply a 'nice first step'.Suggest a correction