England ended a 13-year wait for a Grand Slam by coming out on top of their battle with France in Paris, winning 31-21.
Outscoring their hosts by three tries to none, England held their nerve when it has let them down so often in the past. The best side in this year’s Six Nations now have a Grand Slam to their name.
France were kept in the contest both by their willingness to play, typified by Virimi Vakatawa and Scott Spedding, and the metronomic boot of Maxime Machenaud who scored all of their 21 points.
For the first time in the Eddie Jones era England were made to sweat for a full 80 minutes, and as they have been throughout the tournament, they were good – in fact very good – but never quite excellent.
The missed tackles will have irritated defence coach Paul Gustard, while their penalty count is bound to have rattled Jones as it has all tournament.
But those are the negatives. England were more clinical. They hounded France at the lineout with steals from Maro Itoje and George Kruis, with both locks outstanding. And now they have won five games out of five.
France produced their best half of the tournament in the first 40 minutes but still went in trailing, not capitalising on the holes they found in the English defence as Vakatawa’s moments of promise ended without points.
Two quick penalties against Anthony Watson and Itoje set Machenaud up to knock over the first points, as France took a 3-0 lead.
Farrell responded instantly after Watson was taken around the neck from the restart, knocking over his penalty off the post.
France’s rolling maul looked effective, just like the flying Vakatawa as he broke a tackle from Jack Nowell on an early charge.
Les Bleus were hungry, a sharp break and pass from Spedding to Vakatawa deserving more than a ball into touch. Chances such as those had to be taken.
Danny Care was less wasteful. Spotting the gap around the side of the ruck he always had too much speed for the chasing Jefferson Poirot, fending him off to sprint away for the game’s first try.
The loss of François Trinh-Duc rubbed salt in the wound after Care’s score, but first blood at the scrum went France’s way after Mako Vunipola dropped his bind. Machenaud obliged, making it 6-10.
With their use of Vakatawa and Spedding from deep France were finding space and making real ground in their own half, and yet again, England were the next try scorers.
This time it was Dan Cole, quite literally rolling his way over the line after not being held as England finished a stint in France’s 22 which all started from a cross-field kick by George Ford to Watson.
France and their supporters beseeched referee Nigel Owens to chalk it off for obstruction on Guilhem Guirado, although he had no interest even with the input of the TMO. A longer look may have produced another outcome, as Farrell’s conversion meant England led 6-17.
Guirado responded by winning a kickable penalty at the breakdown for Machenaud to knock over, closing the gap to eight, and another Machenaud penalty, this time against Chris Robshaw, made that 12-17 having denied England down the other end.
England could have had the final say of the half but Farrell pushed a penalty wide to the left of the posts, keeping England ahead by five after missing 15 tackles in the first half.
Forced to turn to their scramble defence England did just enough to hold France out after yet another burst from Vakatawa, as Machenaud moved to five from five with another penalty, but France immediately conceded after giving Farrell a soft penalty to make it 15-20.
But again France reeled the visitors back in, Machenaud with his sixth penalty, as the contest grew chaotic with turnovers on each side.
Momentum for England had been rare when it came to their ball carrying until Vunipola at last began to motor from the back of a scrum. The damage done from his burst freed up Ben Youngs, a replacement for Care, to scamper ahead, before his delicate grubber kick to the wing was met by Watson who held off Fofana to finish.
Machenaud though wouldn’t let England get away, knocking over penalty number seven.
A long stoppage for treatment to Dylan Hartley gave both sides pause for thought with only 12 minutes remaining, England forced to try and finish the job without their captain with their lineout having run at 100 percent.
With a high tackle from Paul Jedrasiak on Youngs, Farrell had a chance to stretch England’s lead out to seven again from a long way out, landing it superbly to make it 21-28.
Xavier Chiocci’s yellow card and Farrell’s subsequent penalty then put the stamp on the win England have craved for so long.
England are not just Six Nations champions, but Grand Slam winners too. Deserved? Absolutely.
Man of the Match: So often France looked likely to score, and then George Kruis would pop up with a crucial steal. He has come of age in this tournament.
Moment of the Match: Owen Farrell’s kicking wasn’t perfect on the night but his long-range strike to make it 28-21 was absolutely vital.
Villain of the Match: Nothing nasty to report.
Pens: Machenaud 7
Yellow Card: Chiocci
Tries: Care, Cole, Watson
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 4
France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Wesley Fofana, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Xavier Chiocci, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Wenceslas Lauret, 21 Sébastien Bézy, 22 Jules Plisson, Maxime Médard
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Manu Tuilagi, 23 Elliot Daly
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)