England beats France 31-21 to win 6 Nations Grand Slam

By JEROME PUGMIRE 20 March 2016, 12:00AM

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 nil 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 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 more than 10 minutes from the end 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, fitter, and think clearer. 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 it 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.

Prop Jefferson Poirot missed a tackle on Danny Care and the quick England scrumhalf sped 45 meters for a converted try behind the posts. Then, on England's second try midway through the first half, prop Dan Cole rolled over Guilhem Guirado and Scott Spedding for another converted try, making it 17-6.

Luckily for France, Machenaud had his eye in on a bitterly cold night, cutting England's lead to 17-12 by halftime, and 17-15 soon after.

At 20-18 behind, France's defense was generous again. Following a break off the back of a scrum by England bowling ball No. 8 Billy Vunipola, replacement scrumhalf Ben Youngs kicked to the right corner where winger Anthony Watson gathered and stretched to touch down.

But England still couldn't deliver the killer blow. Hartley was concussed trying to make a tackle, but England used his time for treatment to refocus. Another Farrell kick left France needing to score a converted try it never looked like scoring all night. Instead, Farrell's fourth penalty finally gave England relief, and put the result beyond France's reach.

"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."



By JEROME PUGMIRE 20 March 2016, 12:00AM

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