England beat France 31-21 in Paris to claim their first Grand Slam since 2003..
While England had already secured the Six Nations title, with a round to spare, the Grand Slam was the prize they really craved. Not since 2003, when Martin Johnson captained the side that would go on to win the World Cup, had England won all of their matches in a Six Nations campaign.
That they achieved this a few months after a nightmare World Cup, and during Eddie Jones’s first campaign as head coach, makes it even more special, even if the quality of rugby on show in this year’s tournament has been disappointing.
A fired-up France did their best to spoil their arch-rivals’ party. They dominated the opening 10 minutes of the match, with Machenaud and Farrell exchanging penalties.
England, though, weathered that initial storm and briefly silenced the French crowd when Danny Care picked up the ball from the back of a ruck near halfway, burst through a big gap and dived over under the posts.
Machenaud clawed three points back for France, before another patient attack resulted in a try to Dan Cole, who wasn’t held in the tackle and rolled over the line. Farrell’s conversion made it 17-6 after 20 minutes.
But two more penalties from Machenaud reduced the deficit to five, with Farrell’s penalty attempt on the stroke of half-time going wide.
England’s poor discipline continued after the break, and Machenaud made them pay with another two penalties, either side of one from Farrell, that made it 20-18.
It took a strong Billy Vunipola run from the back of a scrum to spark his team back to life. Ben Youngs, who had replaced Care early in the second half, broke away from the resultant ruck and his grubber was collected by Anthony Watson, who scored in the left-hand corner.
But no sooner had the visitors established a seven-point lead than they gave Machenaud an opportunity to kick his seventh penalty. England then lost captain Dylan Hartley in the 68th minute when he took a knee to the head while attempting to tackle Uini Atonio.
But the visitors kept their composure, while France faded, and Farrell sealed victory with two late penalties, the second of which came after Xavier Chiocci was yellow-carded for coming in from the side of a maul.
With a 10-point lead, ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ rang out around the stadium, and the celebrations began soon after.
France – Penalties: Maxime Machenaud (7).
England – Tries: Danny Care, Dan Cole, Anthony Watson. Conversions: Owen Farrell (2). Penalties: 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.
Subs: 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, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 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.