England seized their first Grand Slam since 2003 with a tense victory over France in Paris to complete a triumphant debut campaign at the helm for Eddie Jones.
Tries from Danny Care, Dan Cole and Anthony Watson ensured there was no repeat of past failures at the final hurdle – most recently in Dublin five years ago – on a glorious night for a team that had fallen so far short of expectations at last autumn’s World Cup.
The celebrations looked like being muted, after captain Dylan Hartley was knocked unconscious during a tackle in the 68th minute and had to be carried from the pitch on a stretcher after receiving lengthy medical treatment. But Hartley was back on the pitch after the final whistle and lifted the trophy.
They had claimed the Six Nations title with a round to spare, but masterminding a 13th England Grand Slam was Jones’ clear objective and the Australian delivered to follow up a sequence of four successive runners-up finishes under predecesor Stuart Lancaster.
Care had been picked ahead of Ben Youngs in the belief his energy would help nullify Les Blues and the scrum-half used his wits to plunder an opportunist early score.
But having led 17-6 after the first quarter, England were reeled in to 20-18 with the kicking of Maxime Machenaud punishing their indiscipline. They entered a pivotal phase of the match determined to ensure the year 2016 was not added to the lengthy list of final-day implosions and responded brilliantly, Watson adding a third try.
Each side nailed an early penalty. France looked dangerous down the left, with winger Virimi Vakatawa twice making breaks inside the first 10 minutes. But he should have done better the second time when he overthrew his pass as Gael Fickou came through on the overlap.
Sloppy defending has been a trait in the French team, and it happened twice in quick succession.
Prop Jefferson Poirot missed a tackle on Care who peeled away for a converted try between the posts. Then, on England’s second try midway through the first half, full-back Scott Spedding failed to grab prop Cole as he rolled away and over the line for another converted try, making it 17-6.
Luckily for France, at least Machenaud had his eye in, and his fourth penalty cut England’s lead to 17-12. He then slotted from in front of the posts to bring France within two points and test England’s nerve. But France infringed straight away and Farrell’s boot restored the five-point gap.
After Machenaud helped himself to a sixth penalty, France’s defence was even more generous, and following a surging run from England No. 8 Billy Vunipola, replacement scrum-half Youngs picked up the loose ball and kicked into the right corner, where winger Anthony Watson gathered and stretched to touch down.
England kept making mistakes and Machenaud punished them but Farrell gave England some breathing space with his third and fourth penalties of the night.