England are confident they can secure a Six Nations grand slam if they maintain the composure they displayed in their 12-6 win over Ireland on Sunday, with Tom Wood insisting there are "no limits" to what the team can achieve in the longer term.
Wood, who played a central role at No8 in another resilient English pack effort in wet conditions in Dublin, is now looking forward to welcoming France and Italy to Twickenham before the final weekend fixture against Wales in Cardiff next month. "I don't think there are any limits to what we can achieve but we have to keep focusing on the next job and stay very grounded," said the Northampton flanker.
"All our victories so far have been built on that intensity and hard work. They are not built on individual flair or individual talent, they are built on togetherness and the culture that underpins that. The moment we forget that and get ahead of ourselves we are in trouble.
"Can we win the grand slam? I like to think so. If we get things right, we're going to be a very difficult side to beat because we are hard to break down. It's our ferocity in the breakdown, our energy in defence, our willingness to work for each other that is making the difference and we need to keep remembering that. We have to count on that being a given from now on but there are some good sides out there. France will be hurting after recent weeks, Wales are finding some form and will be tough at the Millennium Stadium and Italy are showing what they are capable of."
Wood and his team-mates, who will train at the Football Association's St George's Park complex this week, feel the Ireland win was a significant landmark even so. "I think it was a pretty big achievement to come up against such an experienced team in challenging conditions and get the win. The biggest thing for us is that we didn't just get up for one game against the All Blacks. We managed to back it up against Scotland and we came away to a really tough environment and did the same again. We're winning in different ways."
Stuart Lancaster and his fellow coaches, nevertheless, will spend the coming days emphasising the danger of looking beyond the French game at Twickenham on Saturday week. "France will be hurting and they'll be really fired up for this game," warned Lancaster. "People talked about the Ireland game as a grand slam decider but, if you get too far ahead of yourself, you take your eye off the ball. We won't be getting carried away by anything. All things point to France and nothing else. France on the back of two defeats are a dangerous animal."
The France coach, Philippe Saint-André, has dropped five players from his squad for the England game and recalled the fit-again Vincent Clerc. The Toulouse wing missed France's defeats by Italy and Wales with a thigh injury but he has now been restored to the training squad along with Thomas Domingo, Christophe Samson, Yannick Nyanga and the uncapped South African-born flanker, Antoine Claassen.
Those omitted are Maxime Mermoz, Damien Chouly, the injured Fulgence Ouedraogo, Yannick Forestier and Romain Taofifénua. "We've made five changes because it is necessary to freshen up the squad mentally and physically," said Saint-André. "We want to get the team spirit back that we had in November. We won't give in, we will go to London with the will to do better. We want to make things up to our fans and to win this match. I'm sure we can do it."
France squad: Forwards: Vincent Debaty, Thomas Domingo, Benjamin Kayser, Dimitri Szarzewski, Luc Ducalcon, Nicolas Mas, Yoann Maestri, Pascal Papé, Christophe Samson, Yannick Nyanga, Thierry Dusautoir, Antoine Claassen, Louis Picamoles.
Backs: Maxime Machenaud, Morgan Parra, Frédéric Michalak, François Trinh-Duc, Mathieu Bastareaud, Benjamin Fall, Wesley Fofana, Florian Fritz, Yoann Huget, Vincent Clerc.
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