ROME • England were crowned Six Nations champions for the third time in five years on Saturday, but not everyone watching at home was impressed by the quality of rugby on show.
Eddie Jones’ men beat Italy 34-5 in Rome before watching the French defeat Ireland 35-27, a result which meant that neither team could overhaul them.
England began the day 23 points behind Ireland on points difference and two ahead of France.
After a stodgy opening half, they secured a bonus-point win with five tries and set Ireland a target of winning by seven points in Paris.
The Irish, however, failed to do so and France’s bonus-point victory ensured that England finished as winners on points difference.
It was a day to remember for England scrum-half Ben Youngs, who marked his 100th appearance with two smart individual tries and the Man of the Match award in a generally stuttering performance that improved markedly in the second half.
“I’m obviously very proud but the most important thing for me was to play my part in this team,” he told ITV. “It’s a nice milestone.
“We always felt like it was going to be a grinding down process, we knew if we stuck to it we’d get there in the end.”
England captain Owen Farrell was just as happy after watching the Paris game in his team’s hotel in Rome.
“It got to a point where it seemed like it was going our way and it did,” he told the BBC.
“It’s a massive achievement for us as a group to win the Six Nations in the strangest year and circumstances.”
ENGLISH REACTION TO SIX NATIONS WIN
England were very scrappy in the first half – and that’s being kind. Of course, they were a bit rusty, but they were dull mentally as well.
We always felt like it was going to be a grinding down process, we knew if we stuck to it we’d get there in the end.
It was a suitably surreal end to the championship, which England began by being ripped apart in the first half of their opening game against France in February but ended, nine months later, with a big win over Italy in an empty Olympic Stadium.
“I’m very proud of all the players and staff, they’ve reacted superbly to the changing situations in the past couple of weeks and remained focused on the goal of winning the Six Nations,” said England coach Jones, who led the team to the last four at last year’s World Cup in Japan.
“It’s strange not having fans in the stadium and we know it is a tough time for the country but we felt your support throughout the campaign and it does make a difference.”
However, former coach Clive Woodward, who guided England to their sole World Cup title in 2003, claimed that the routine victory over Italy would not have gotten fans off their seats.
“It wasn’t pretty and probably didn’t raise your pulse back home, but after seven months without Test rugby, England will settle for a bonus-point win,” he told the Daily Mail.
“England were very scrappy in the first half – and that’s being kind. Of course, they were a bit rusty, but they were dull mentally as well.”
England face Georgia, Ireland and Wales in the Autumn Nations Cup later this month, and Woodward is expecting a big improvement.
“It looks like the months ahead are going to be trying for many of us, so hopefully, the team can produce some moments to cheer everybody up,” he added.