After the disappointments of 2011 and 2013 it was fantastic to see England finally get over the line and claim that elusive Grand Slam. I know how hard it is to achieve and it is no mean feat.
Let’s break England’s achievements down. Were they outstanding? No. Were they calm and controlled? Yes.
This team is not the full package and head coach Eddie Jones is well aware of that. But a little over 100 days into his tenure he has masterminded only the 13th Grand Slam in England’s history and he will have learned so much about his team.
How did Jones turn things around?
If you asked me what Jones has changed about an England side that were so disappointing at the 2015 World Cup, the answer is – not much at all.
Everyone said at the end of last year’s Six Nations that England had a great team and Jones obviously thought the same otherwise he would have made wholesale changes, but he didn’t and pretty much the same group of players really performed for him.
We mustn’t forget that England could have won the championship last year and outscored this year’s side by 18 tries to 13. The difference is, though, that they never looked in danger of being beaten and that is credit to Jones and the players.
Basically, he’s got England back to being English and doing what they traditionally do best.
Strong all over the park with a great set piece, their line-out was a real standout.
England have always been strong in the second row and while Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury are very, very good players, the partnership in this Six Nations between George Kruis and Maro Itoje has been immense. What my old team-mate Steve Borthwick has done since coming in as forwards coach cannot be underestimated.
Not only has England’s line-out been superb, it has made others look distinctly average. Not many teams would go to the Stade de France and steal four throws.
A man in control
Jones has given the players their confidence back. They are playing with a freedom that maybe they didn’t have during Stuart Lancaster’s tenure and you could see the pressure lift off their shoulders.
It appeared that Lancaster worried too much about his players and worried too much about what the media thought.
Jones doesn’t give off the impression of worrying about much, least of all the media.
He doesn’t care at all and happily throws curve ball after curve ball in their direction and even imposes bans on talking to them.
It’s a means of steering pressure away from his players and on to himself, allowing them to concentrate on getting on with playing rugby.
Maybe his extra experience as a coach has helped give them the freedom they needed.
What still needs work?
Discipline is definitely something that needs to be improved ahead of the summer tour. The amount of penalties they gave away, especially against France, was a real negative and will see them get punished by better teams.
Attacking wise, we saw glimpses of real fluidity, but they were just glimpses. Nowell’s try against Scotland courtesy of a brilliant offload by Mako Vunipola and Owen Farrell’s score against Italy thanks to Jamie George’s pass spring to mind, but against southern hemisphere sides they will need to work on their attacking plays and shape.
Jones has said he wants his side to play with a high tempo and when they did on Saturday they reaped the rewards.
We saw that quick ball led to quick points with Danny Care’s try and there was a 10-minute spell in the second half where fellow scrum-half Ben Youngs was getting quick ball after quick ball and France were back under pressure.
Every time England go into an opposition 22 they should be coming away with points.
Slade the answer?
If I could make one change to this team, it would be to select Exeter’s Henry Slade as an out-and-out inside centre.
When he is fully match fit, picking him would enhance England as an attacking force.
Owen Farrell has done well out of position at 12, but he is better at fly-half where his power-based game that is so successful at Saracens can be utilised best, rather than being a link man at centre.
I’d prefer him to have a straight shootout, picked on form, with George Ford for the number 10 shirt, while Slade could form a potent centre pairing with one of Manu Tuilagi, Jonathan Joseph or Elliot Daly.
Jones isn’t afraid to mix up his tactics and he is blessed to have such a variety of styles amongst the centres at his disposal.
On facing Australia
If I put my hand on my heart and asked myself whether England would have beaten Australia on Saturday, my answer would be no.
After a Six Nations that wasn’t a classic, I don’t think we can properly judge where England are until they play three Tests in June against an Aussie side that ruthlessly beat them at Twickenham at the World Cup in October.
There are so many key battles to look forward to when you compare the teams but for me the back-row battle will be vital.
Jones has had legendary Wallabies flanker George Smith tutoring his forwards in the art of the breakdown, which will be absolutely critical.
Australia’s David Pocock and Michael Hooper have been absolutely unbelievable in this area and, along with Scott Fardy, they formed the best back row at the World Cup. England will have their work cut out dealing with them this summer.
Jones’ tactic in this Six Nations was to play without a number seven, but will we see natural open-sides Jack Clifford and Matt Kvesic getting more game time down under?
Maro Itoje did the most work over the ball during the Six Nations, but against the Aussies their lack of a seven could be exposed.
Also, England will need to improve their defending when clearing the ball from their own 22. France winger Virimi Vakatawa had a field day and was making a succession of 30-metre carries – what damage would the likes of Israel Folau make with this amount of space?
Jones’ verbal sparring with the media in his home country and with counterpart Michael Cheika will no doubt provide much fun and games during the series.
He never takes a backwards step and this England team will follow suit. They will go to Australia with no fear and it will provide these Grand Slam winners with the acid test of where they are at in world rugby.