The 13-year wait to be crowned the dominant force in Europe came to an end in Paris on Saturday after France were toppled in an absorbing climax to the Six Nations Championship.
Eddie Jones’ England had been crowned champions with a round to spare and are worthy winners of an otherwise sub-standard tournament as they claimed partial redemption for last autumn’s dismal World Cup showing.
More dangerous adversaries loom on the horizon in the shape of a three-Test series against Australia in June but Ford, the Bath fly-half, believes they are well equipped to face them.
“This is only the start for us and while we’re glad to have done this, we understand we need to get better as well,” Ford said.
“There’s so much more to come. The potential is endless. This is a small start to becoming a better team. We understand there are tougher things to come, but if we stay humble and grounded and keep working hard and enjoying each other’s company, then this team can go places.”
Tries from Danny Care, Dan Cole and Anthony Watson and the dead-eyed kicking of Owen Farrell accounted for France, whose spirit and occasional attacking flourish made for a tense evening.
Watson’s touchdown in the 56th minute gave England some breathing space and they controlled the final half hour with two late penalties from Farrell finally easing the tension.
Grand Slam failures endured at the final hurdle litter Red Rose history, but on Saturday night they held their nerve in a pivotal phase of the match to end a run of four successive runners-up finishes.
“This is brilliant. We were happy to have won the tournament, but we also wanted to do it in the proper way by winning every game,” Ford said.
“After the World Cup we went away, stuck together and the majority of that squad was involved in this. Sometimes you have to take things like what happened then on the chin and stay grounded.”
Among the standout performers have been number eight Billy Vunipola, lock George Kruis, flanker James Haskell and centre Farrell, but the real star of this tournament is Jones himself.
In 120 days he has shaped virtually the same group of players who imploded at the World Cup into rulers of the northern hemisphere, resurrecting their self-belief and using his wily rugby brain to provide a smart tactical blueprint.
“Eddie is a really honest guy and he’ll tell you straight what it is you need to do to take your game to the next level,” Ford said.
“The biggest thing for me is that he’s created an enjoyable environment and the lads have responded brilliantly to that. Training has been taken to the next level.
“He’s installed a way of playing into us and wants us to attack teams and that’s the way the lads like playing. We’ve worked hard and it’s been a tough eight weeks, but it’s been an enjoyable one at the same time.”
Jones insists his England will reach their peak in time for the next World Cup in three years’ time and has even trained his sights on New Zealand.
“Winning the Grand Slam means you beat every team in the competition and means you’re the most dominant team,” Jones said.
“I think everyone is ecstatic to be the most dominant team in Europe. It’s a nice first step for us but it’s only a small step because we’ve got much larger steps to go. That starts with the Australian tour in June.
“Can we beat the All Blacks? Of course we can. We can’t now but we will in the future. Why else would you play Test rugby if you don’t think you can beat the All Blacks?
“The exciting thing for us is that we have an average age of 24. Winning trophy age is about 28 so we’re three or four years from peaking. That’s enormously exciting.
“England have been quite stereotyped in terms of how they play the game. In the Premiership everyone tends to play the same way.
“We’ve tried to change that. At times we’ve had good results and at times we haven’t. We’re still working on improving that.”
France coach Guy Noves was proud of his players but accepted England were the superior team.
“We’re quite close against all the other teams in the Six Nations, but there was a much bigger divide between us and England,” Noves said.
“The English were very vigorous and we really felt it in the second half. We were dominated in the line-outs and rucks, but I’m pleased by how we played.
“There is room for improvement and this is almost a new project. There is lots of potential.”
Spedding, Fofana, Fickou, Mermoz, Vakatawa, Trinh-Duc, Machenaud, Poirot, Guirado, Slimani, Flanquart, Maestri, Chouly, Le Roux, Goujon.
Medard for Mermoz (69), Plisson for Trinh-Duc (13), Bezy for Machenaud (75), Atonio for Poirot (58), Chat for Guirado (66), Chiocci for Slimani (57), Jedrasiak for Flanquart (57), Lauret for Goujon (69).
Brown, Watson, Joseph, Farrell, Nowell, Ford, Care, M. Vunipola, Hartley, Cole, Itoje, Kruis, Robshaw, Haskell, B. Vunipola. Replacements: Youngs for Care (44), Marler for M. Vunipola (41), Cowan-Dickie for Hartley (67), Clifford for Robshaw (75).
Brookes, Launchbury, Tuilagi, Daly.
Nigel Owens (Wales)