Despite predictions to the contrary, including my own, the team of this year’s 6 Nations Championship is turning out to be England.
Last month I commented that, barring either a superb opposing performance or a lapse in their own concentration, France were all but favourites after the opening round of fixtures.
And so it proved to be the former, a gritty and determined effort from England, that ensured French dreams of a Grand Slam were dissipated before coming to fruition, much to the benefit of English hopes.
Despite a nod to the possibility, I must admit the actual reality of the French slipping up seemed a distant one, faint if any at all. Yet when faced with a side both stubborn in defence and pugnacious in attack, their usual flair was virtually ineffectual, indeed only fleetingly visible.
Whilst France may well have been short of their breathtaking best, it is as much a nod to England’s new found ability to win “ugly”. Although not hitting the dizzying heights of the previous week’s performance, their tenacity proved just as satisfying against stronger opposition.
Too many times in the past England have left a game empty handed through not killing off opposition they have dominated, but since their bruising encounter with Samoa in the Autumn it seems that, finally under Martin Johnson, they are starting to win games by any means.
This is a pleasing development to accompany the spectacular destruction of Italy just a week previously. Not for many years has an English side so convincingly overrun an opposition, and watching the backs cut their counterparts to ribbons has been a much-missed sight indeed.
The combination of these two attributes, the devilishly destructive with the roundly resolute, demonstrates the progress Johnson’s side have made in recent months. With only a sorry Scotland and an indifferent Ireland to come, it is looking increasingly likely that England can claim their first Grand Slam since 2003.
Of course 2003 is remembered for another victory, and such consistency in form comes 182 days before the World Cup begins in New Zealand. Whilst we must consider the task at hand first, it is certainly not unrealistic to contemplate history repeating.
Indeed this is proving to be talking point already. Lawrence Dallaglio, part of the victorious side eight years ago, believes that the 2011 tournament will come too soon for England. Speaking in a recent interview, the former Number 8 commented that the team are “on a journey” and, whilst not winning, they will still prove to be “dangerous” throughout.
Regardless of wild speculation, what is clear is that England are once again becoming a force to be reckoned with. With just two more wins, a Grand Slam will be the much-deserved reward for what has been many years of toil.
Then, and only then, can we begin to talk about bigger things.