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England beat France to claim first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003

Eddie Jones took over as England rugby union team's head coach in November. Reuters/Russell Cheyne

England claimed the Grand Slam in rugby union’s Six Nations tournament on Saturday night with a 31-21 victory over France. It was their first clean sweep of wins over Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Italy and France since 2003.

The feat also vindicated the decision of the bosses at the English Rugby Football Union to ditch Stuart Lancaster after the 2015 Rugby World Cup and replace him with Eddie Jones after the fiasco of the group stages.

Lancaster’s side became the first England team not to reach the last eight. They also had to endure the ignominy of being the first host nation that failed to advance to the knockout stages.

But that was then. And Jones is targeting the future. He says he wants his side to be the number one nation by the time of the 2019 World Cup in Japan. Fighting talk clearly aimed at world champions New Zealand.

“We can’t beat the All Blacks now,” said Jones after the win in Paris. “But we will. We are ecstatic to be the dominant team in Europe but the great thing is we have a long way to go. What is exciting is that we have an average age of 24 and the trophy average age is normally 28 so we have a lot of growing to do.”

Jones, who impressed with his stewardship of Japan at the World Cup, dropped Chris Robshaw as captain but retained him in the team and elevated Dylan Hartley. It was a controversial decision as the 29-year-old had a startling list of disciplinary blemishes during his career.

But the man who has missed more than a year of rugby through suspensions has channelled his aggression under the aegis of Jones and can now boast of an achievement unknown to a string of more clean cut predecessors.

France coach Guy Novès who took over from Philippe St André at the start of the tournament was munificent following a defeat that left his side fifth in the table after Wales thrashed Italy 67-14 to finish second and defending champions Ireland beat Scotland 35-25 to take third and fourth respectively.

“I did not feel there was much between us and the other for sides we played before the game against England,” said Novès. “The gap was much bigger between us and England and while I was proud of the way we played, we have to improve to catch up.”