England’s dramatic late win over France at Twickenham owed a lot to the leadership of Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje, according to head coach Eddie Jones.
Itoje powered over with five minutes to play to secure a 23-20 triumph for the reigning champions in a contest which proved captivating from the moment Antoine Dupont opened the scoring for the visitors inside 80 seconds.
Jones was delighted by the efforts of his players, who have had a fortnight to stew over their Round 3 defeat in Cardiff, and paid tribute to the collective cool heads which saw them over the line.
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“We thought France would come out pretty strong at the start of the game,” he said at his post-match press conference.
“They’ve had a long period to prepare for it and they’re coming to Twickenham, they want to get off on the front foot.
“We didn’t enjoy them scoring a try but we knew that might be part of the game equation and the players responded really well.
“They kept their cool. When you’re having a bad run, the hard thing for a team is to keep your focus in the game.
“I’m really pleased with how honest they players’ efforts were. Maro (Itoje) and Owen (Farrell) stood out today in the way they led the team.
“They played at their best and showed a lot of composure in terms of coping with difficult periods.
“It’s a good step forward and I was pleased with our tactical discipline.”
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Jones also reserved particular praise for Anthony Watson, who marked his 50th cap with a try and the Guinness Six Nations Player of the Match award.
The flying wing – who sits level with Louis Rees-Zammit on four tries at the top of the Championship charts – has recovered from multiple injury setbacks in recent years to become a key man in Jones’ squad and the head coach was thrilled to see the 28-year-old’s landmark day celebrated in style.
“The whole team is really happy for him,” he said. “He’s had a difficult injury run, he’s come back and he works hard, trains hard and always has a smile on his face.
“He’s a good guy around the team. For him to be awarded his 50th cap today and play such a good game is fantastic for his family.
“I’m sure his wife and baby at home are so happy and his mother and father are so pleased for him.”
Watson was not the only member of the back three to please his head coach, with full-back Max Malins impressing on his first Test start along with replacement Elliot Daly.
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“We got a great 80 out of the two of them,” Jones said.
“Max ran with a lot of determination, was brave in the air and will only get better.
“Elliot has hardly trained this week but came on and showed why he’s won 50 caps.
“He played with great determination, a lot of composure at the back and got us on the front foot on a number of occasions.”
England round off their campaign with a trip to Dublin next weekend and though their hopes of retaining the Championship are over, Jones wants his side to go out with a bang.
“We’re so disappointed we can’t defend our trophy so we want to finish with a good feeling about where we’re going as a team,” he said.
“We’re still nowhere near our best and that’s the exciting thing.
“We have another week in the competition to put our best foot forward against Ireland and we are looking forward to raising the stakes.”