Winning ugly looks good for England
After the flair, the fight.
If the thrashing of Italy a fortnight ago was a party full of Ash Splash and dash, England's tight, tense win over France was something very different - a brutal, relentless shift on the shop floor.
Hard graft replaced soft hands. Swallow dives were superseded by donkey-work. If anything, the effect was more impressive.
After the merry destruction of Australia last November, we knew this England team could play champagne rugby. What we didn't know is whether they could grind out results against the big boys when the fizz was noticeably absent.
Against South Africa they had been knocked backwards by a mean, lumpy set of forwards and were unable to work out how to get back on their feet. France's forwards are as lumpy as the northern hemisphere's come, and for 40 minutes they threatened to teach Martin Johnson's men the same lesson twice.
Four months on, however, there is a Plan B. There is also the nous to figure out that Plan A needs to be torn up, and the ability to implement the back-up when hearts are thumping and knees knocking.
"In our middle game last year to Ireland we lost a game like this, and it rips your guts out," said Johnson with immense feeling afterwards.
"You've got to win these matches. They are ferocious - France were hard on the ball, they turned our line over a few times. Bad teams don't come back from that, but we did."
This was a far from flawless performance by England. In the first half their indiscipline kept throwing Marc Lievremont's men little lifelines just as they threatened to be cut adrift. Penalties were no sooner kicked than conceded. The star turns from the season so far - Ben Youngs, Toby Flood, even Chris Ashton - found their spark snuffed out by a blanket defence and the stamping feet of Thierry Dusautoir and Imanol Harinordoquy.
On a wet, chill day, the Twickenham turf squelchy after a day of heavy rain, they opted for tactics more suited to sunshine and slick hands. If it seems harsh to criticise a young, revitalised team for showing too much ambition, it was equally obvious that these were conditions for a no-frills territorial game.
In that first period England were disjointed, France disruptive. This time they turned it round.
Skipper Mike Tindall revealed afterwards that there had been no tea cups sent flying at half-time, no old-fashioned ranting from captain or coach. Instead there was what he called a "quiet, calm chat", and what it lacked in drama it made up for in effectiveness.
Had Dimitri Yachvili's penalty on the stroke of half-time drifted inside the left-hand post rather than narrowly across it, France would have taken both the lead and the momentum into the second period.
Instead England came out revitalised, and smashed into them from the re-start onwards.
First sloppy hands and a careless boot allowed Tom Palmer to charge down the clearing kick. Then, with England crashing closer to the right-hand corner of the French try line, Flood spotted the spaces out wide left and spun the attack the other way.
Mark Cueto's quick-thinking tap-on was clever, Ben Foden's dummy, shoulder-dip and drive for the line a fine piece of finishing.
England could have added two more tries in quick succession. Ashton dived under the posts to a deafening roar from the Twickenham faithful, only for the score to be ruled out by a marginally forward pass from Flood to Youngs, before Shontayne Hape opted to go alone with a clear overlap on his left shoulder and the line at his mercy.
France's hopes, still buoyant despite that blitz, were punctured in a crucial five-minute spell from 52 minutes to 57.
Jonny Wilkinson, whose reputation in France is such that grown men quake at the sight of his pre-kick crouch, banged over a long-ranger to take England's lead past a converted try. Yachvili, given an immediate opportunity to bring it back within range by James Haskell's daft infringement, sent his effort against the post.
It got worse for the noisy travelling contingent packed into the north-west corner of the ground. Francois Trinh-Duc flicked through a delightfully disguised grubber, Aurelien Rougerie raced onto it as the England defence stared wrong-footed and then, with no tackler within touching distance, knocked the ball on when a forward's flop would have touched it down.
France had been unbeaten in the championship since the corresponding fixture two years ago, and if the scoreline was never going to mirror the 30-point thrashing on that day, nor the similar defeat on their very first visit to Twickenham a century ago this year, they are the reigning Grand Slam champions for several very good reasons.
Unfortunately those reasons were seldom in evidence from Rougerie's fumble onwards.
Toothless in attack, increasingly directionless with ball in hand and weary-legged from toil on a heavy pitch, they looked a beaten team with over quarter of the match still to go.
One hundred and fifty passes were made, but not a single line break. Instead, the handling errors piled up - 16 and counting - and the heads went down. After his bright start, Yachvili never looked like repeating his feats here of 2007. Neither his selection nor that of Sebastien Chabal, Lievremont's other high-profile change, could be said to have paid off.
England impressed in several key departments. The front row, significantly more inexperienced than its counterpart, stood firm under the onslaught. Dan Cole banished the memory of the uncomfortable time he endured at the Stade de France in the reverse fixture last year; Alex Corbisiero ensured that Andrew Sheridan's loss on 22 minutes was barely noticed.
They were matched by both locks and loose forwards, whose work-rate first equalled that of their illustrious counterparts and then exceeded it. That the pack was missing three more first choicers (Courtney Lawes, Tom Croft and Lewis Moody) was never apparent.
In defence, England were remorseless. France, tryless, were turned over seven times, repeatedly stopped in their tracks or driven back by a wall of white. Mike Ford's homework and the hard work on the training pitches had paid off handsomely.
Twickenham responded accordingly. The new-found zeal within the team is now being mirrored by the supporters around the stadium. There have been plenty of horror shows and a whole lot of ugly business to absorb over the last few seasons, but the belief is coming back at pace.
Even Johnson is catching a little of the fever, laughing and joking in his news conference afterwards to an extent that was slightly unsettling to seasoned watchers.
Only when one brave soul dared mention the words 'Grand Slam' did the smile fall off those craggy chops. "That's ridiculous," he muttered darkly.
Lievremont made no such bones about it. "For me, England are the best team in the northern hemisphere right now," he said. "After this game, the path to the Grand Slam is wide open for them."
There was even, from a man who had spent the earlier part of the week telling everyone how much he disliked the English, a grudging admission of admiration.
"I hope," he said with a shrug, "England win the Grand Slam this year."
He might yet get his wish.