THEY are Six Nations champions for the first time in five years but England head coach Eddie Jones insists work remains unfinished and he will do everything possible to achieve their ultimate goal of Grand Slam success.
Having defeated Wales 25-21 at Twickenham on Saturday to lift the Triple Crown, many of England’s squad watched on from their Surrey base yesterday as France – the only side capable of denying them the championship – floundered 29-18 against Scotland at Murrayfield to gift-wrap them the title.
That ends four successive years of frustrating Six Nations runners-up spots and if they, too, can defeat Les Bleus in Paris this Saturday, then Jones – just four months after replacing Stuart Lancaster – will secure that elusive clean sweep and prosper where five predecessors each failed.
It was 2003, under Clive Woodward, that England last won the Grand Slam and, theoretically, even despite having to cross the Channel, they have never had a better chance to complete it for what will be only the second time in 20 years.
Asked if winning the title would make any difference to how he wants his side to now perform in Paris, Jones said: “The only thing that would make a difference is the emotional state of the players. And that’s what I’ve just got to be aware of.
“If it so happened people start slapping us on the back saying we’re now Six Nations champions, telling them how good they are, then we need to do things to make sure we get them back on track.
“I watched the (Scotland) game and now we’ll prepare for the week.
“But our target is still the same. It’s still the Grand Slam.
“The emotions were a bit mixed.
“It’s obviously nice to win the championship – it’s a fantastic achievement by the team as the squad is still very much the same one from the World Cup so credit to them – but as a team we feel like we haven’t achieved what we want to achieve. The Grand Slam.”
Jones, the Australian who has won all four games he has overseen so far, met captain Dylan Hartley briefly after the Scotland result came through last night.
“We didn’t know whether to shake hands, give each other a hug or just get on with business, so we shook hands,” he said.
He admits the French, who narrowly defeated both holders Ireland and Italy in Paris but lost in Cardiff and Edinburgh, are “completely unpredictable.”
“Trying to work out how they defend, what they do in attack and who they are going to pick is so hard,” added Jones.
“(Wesley) Fofana was on the wing this week...it’s difficult.
“Most sides you play against, you understand the system they have in place in attack and defence and you can work out a plan.
“They are so reliant on momentum and once they get that, the ball starts getting flicked out the back and everything wonderful happens.
“All we have to concentrate on against France is to make sure they can’t get momentum.”
The 56-year-old, who stunned the rugby fraternity when inspiring Japan to a shock World Cup win over South Africa last autumn, is not surprised by the rapid strides he has made with this England team who were so embarrassed by their pool stage exit at the same competition.
It was only in November that the RFU bought Jones out of his contract, just eight days into his new role as head coach of Cape Town-based Stormers.
“I was happy at the Stormers,” he recalled.
“I was getting up every morning, seeing the sun, driving to work, having a nice cup of tea in the office, not much pressure there... it was fantastic.
“So, seriously, the only reason I took the England job was because the players here have unbelievable talent.
“I could see that when I watched the World Cup. To have the opportunity to coach them, I had to take it.
“I’m not surprised we’ve improved so much, but we’ve still a long way to go.”
That much is true; England will endeavour to ensure they do not retreat within themselves as they did with almost catastrophic results on Saturday.
They were brilliant in the first half to lead Wales 16-0 but changed tactics in the second period.
Having built up a 25-7 advantage, they nearly came unstuck when Dan Cole was sin-binned and their visitors scored 14 points in four alarming minutes towards the end.
“We’re a go-at-em team not a strangulation team and we tried to play that strangle in the last 20,” said Jones.
“We sat back, kicked and defended.
“I don’t want us to play rugby like that. We can change that.”
Match report: Page 6