The Official Online RBS 6 Nations Store is open. The store has everything you need to get behind your team during the RBS 6 Nations, plus the store is now fully stocked with a much wider range of rugby merchandise.
It had just about everything – the lead changing hands six times, five tries, four missed penalties, three injuries, two yellow cards and one man-of-the-match, George North.
They may have given the official accolade to Mike Phillips but not even he would dispute the shattering impact the teenager from Anglesey continues to make on the Test scene.
Those who questioned Wales as potential champions because of doubts over their capacity to absorb a few casualties along with Shane Williams’ retirement will be revising their views.
It is ludicrously early to think about a Grand Slam decider when France go to Cardiff on St. Patrick’s Day but Wales and their betes noires from the World Cup are clearly the teams to beat.
In regaining the Garibaldi Cup from Italy, the French could be said to have taken the biscuit after losing it big-time in Rome last year.
Philippe Saint-Andre wasted no time showing everyone else that his team means business, four tries without reply showing that the new head coach will apply more than a pragmatic touch to national affairs.
They remain in Paris to welcome an Irish team ultimately undone by the high-powered skill of the largest three-quarter line Wales has ever assembled.
North, 6ft 4in and more than 16 stone, is not the tallest of the quartet nor the heaviest. There was a time 40 years ago when the majority of second row forwards tended to be shorter or lighter or both.
The new England deserve credit for leaving Scotland in one piece after surviving the Murrayfield experience which has often proved far too much for far better Red Rose teams, notably Will Carling’s in 1990.
They had gone to Edinburgh supposedly to win a Grand Slam as had the one led by Matt Dawson in Martin Johnson’s unavoidable absence ten years later.
England know that Italy before a record Roman crowd in the Olympic Stadium on Saturday will require something more creative if they are to extend their winning sequence to 13.
It used to be the tournament’s away banker but the margins in Rome have become too close to comfort for English supporters of late – four points and five from the two most recent visits.
Wales, home to Scotland on Sunday, will be reminded ad infinitum between now and then about what happened two years ago when Chris Paterson’s team conceded 17 points in about three minutes of utter chaos at the end.
The Scots also lost Thom Evans who, mercifully, recovered from a frightening spinal injury and then wisely accepted medical advice to finish.
Leigh Halfpenny’s winning penalty in the final seconds against Ireland at least ensured that the better team won.
More than that, it was a terrific game of rugby, one worthy of placing high among any list of unforgettable RBS 6 Nations’ finishes.
A few spring to mind:
2011 Italy v France at Stadio Flaminio
The French are hanging on grimly to a two-point lead, the Roman legions smell blood and there are five minutes left when Mirco Bergamasco holds his nerve to secure the Azzurri’s most famous win. Italy 22, France 21.
2010 Wales v Scotland at the Millennium Stadium
Wales, 15-3 down after 20 minutes and 21-9 adrift early in the second half, are still ten points behind going into the final three minutes. Leigh Halfpenny’s converted try cuts it to three, Stephen Jones’ eleventh-hour penalty ties it all up at 24-24. Instead of drawing a match they ought to have won, the Scots, thrown into disarray by injury and yellow cards, end up losing to a Shane Williams try. Wales 31, Scotland 24.
2009 Wales v Ireland at the Millennium Stadium
Ireland are within touching distance of their first Slam since 1948 during a momentous finale to the championship when they concede a penalty almost 50 metres out – at the outer limit of Stephen Jones’ range. Amid almost unbearable tension, a nation holds its collective breath as the ball takes flight for what seems an eternity only to drop in front of the Irish posts. Wales 15, Ireland 17.
2008 England v Wales at Twickenham
Despite early injuries, England are cruising at 16-3 in what becomes a classic game of two halves. Wales keep in distant touch through three James Hook penalties and let rip in the final quarter. With substitute lock Ben Kay trying his best to shore up a back row stripped of Lewis Moody and Tom Rees, Wales romp home with tries from Lee Byrne and Mike Phillips. England 19, Wales 26.
2007 Italy v Wales at Stadio Flaminio
Wales recover from early traumas to lead by seven with seven minutes to go. Ramiro Pez’s penalty is all Alessandro Troncon needs to fire the Italians up for a storming finish climaxed by Mauro Bergamasco’s converted try. Instead of opting for a draw, Wales put their last penalty into touch on the understanding that they would have time for the line-out only for the referee, Chris White, to blow for time. Italy 23, Wales 20.
2007 Ireland v France at Croke Park
Ireland, minus an injured Brian O’Driscoll, are almost home to a famous win as a suitable way of marking the RBS 6 Nations baptism at Dublin’s steepling home of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association). Ronan O’Gara’s fourth penalty leaves the French needing a try and barely 60 seconds in which to get it. Ireland fail to gather the restart and Vincent Clerc dances over. Ireland 17, France 20.
2006 Scotland v France at Murrayfield
Two Sean Lamont tries and four Chris Paterson goals put Frank Hadden’s Scots 20-3 clear after 50 minutes. Julien Bonnaire gives the French hope and a second try from hooker Sebastien Bruno three minutes from the end sets up a white-knuckle finish to a worthy home win. Scotland 20, France 16.
2001 France v Wales at Stade de France
A leading contender for the craziest of all RBS 6 Nations’ matches. France, winning 19-6 after half an hour, are losing 22-33 after an hour. Philippe Bernat-Salles’ try and three Christophe Lamaison goals puts them 35-33 ahead with two minutes remaining. Neil Jenkins, not content at stroking Wales ahead again with a penalty, still has time to score a try and convert it. France 35, Wales 43.
My Best XV of the weekend
15. Rob Kearney (Ireland)
14. George North (Wales)
13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)
12. Aurelien Rougerie (France)
11. Julien Malzieu (France)
10. Rhys Priestland (Wales)
9. Mike Phillips (Wales)
1. Rhys Gill (Wales)
2. Rory Best (Ireland)
3. Nicolas Mas (France)
4. Mouritz Botha (England)
5. Richie Gray (Scotland)
6. Ryan Jones (Wales)
7. Ross Rennie (Scotland)
8. Louis Picamoles (France)