By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - England's players have spent much of the last 18 months being forced to justify some stultifying performances so it was no surprise that their joy came pouring out after an effervescent 23-20 win over France on Saturday.
Coach Eddie Jones had routinely dismissed the critics by saying there was no space in modern rugby to play the all-court game fans and media were crying out for, while flyhalf George Ford had explained away the endless tactical kicking by describing the ball as a "ticking time bomb in some areas".
On Saturday it was back to being cherished and passed with speed and ambition, particularly in a wonderful first half where both teams poured on the style from the opening whistle.
England matched France in that regard then turned the screw in the second half, securing victory with a late try by Maro Itoje, who had been widely criticised for giving away five penalties in the previous defeat by Wales.
"In camp, in training and in our bubble we have been building towards something," Itoje said. "We have not been able to consistently convert that into the type of performance that we have wanted to have in games.
"We were sharper. The more time we spend together, the better we will become. It is hard to pinpoint exactly one thing but it is probably a culmination of a few things."
Scrumhalf Ben Youngs said the team had got the mix right.
"From Scotland where we had no balance and not playing, to Italy where we played everything, to Wales somewhere in between and then today the perfect blend," he said.
"It's taken a while to get there but we're seeing the things we are practising in training coming to fruition. For large periods against Wales we attacked well. France are a very good defensive team and we felt like we were only one pass or ruck away from putting them away."
Captain Owen Farrell had one of his most dynamic games for years at inside centre.
"I thought the attitude throughout the game was brilliant, our belief in what we were doing when we got tested was fantastic," he said.
"We've talked a lot abut our belief in ourselves and it got tested (by France's second-minute try) but we knew there was a long way to go. It didn't feel that we were shocked by that and we were all into the next thing."
Farrell was also delighted for Anthony Watson, who marked a man of the match performance in his 50th appearance with his fourth try of the campaign.
"He was at his best in a big game, which is no surprise for us," Farrell said of the winger.
"The Achilles injury he had, how bad that was for a winger, to come back an show the form he's got has been outstanding."
England round off the defence of their title - which will now be taken by Wales or France - away to Ireland next Saturday.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)