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The best team finished top and if Wales were lucky to get out of a tight corner in Dublin on the opening Sunday, they could point with every justification to the old adage about fortune favouring the brave.
England, their pride restored and their shattered team swiftly rebuilt under Stuart Lancaster’s impressive supervision, chased Wales home, fittingly so given how close they had gone to holding them at Twickenham.
The advent of young players like Owen Farrell, a fly-half mature far beyond his years, has stopped the rot and served early notice of England being a force at their own World Cup in 2015.
Only Wales beat them, an example of how they have acquired the priceless knack of winning tight games, one of the hallmarks of Sir Clive Woodward’s England of ten years ago.
Instead of settling for a draw after spending most of the Twickenham match in arrears, Wales went for broke, or rather substitute centre Scott Williams did.
His late, deadlock-breaking try may have left England feeling short-changed but the Welsh propensity to produce something special when it was needed most was what set them apart. The most serious crisis turned out to be the one against Ireland after Bradley Davies had been binned for a tip-up tackle on Donnacha Ryan which demanded a red card.
Ireland duly exploited the advantage, Tommy Bowe’s unconverted try nudging them six points clear with 11 minutes left.
Wales’ quarter-final victims at the World Cup a few months earlier realised all too soon that they had missed a trick in not making the visitors pay a heavier price.
The Welsh, handicapped by injuries before and during the match, kept their nerve under Ryan Jones, in emergency charge as a half-time substitute for Sam Warburton. George North’s corner try, as confirmed by the TMO, left them four minutes to come up with a winner.
By then they were back at full-strength, fortuitously so given Davies’ subsequent citing and seven-week suspension, an admission that he ought to have been sent off.
Whether they could have staged their grandstand finish without a full complement is another matter entirely but over the last few weeks Wales kept playing their way out of adversity.
They did so again at Twickenham when England’s ferocious challenge forced Rhys Priestland to spend ten minutes in the bin for an illicit interference in preventing an English try.
In the end, Wales also won because they have a greater depth than at any time post-professionalism and because they know there is more than one way of skinning the Six Nations cat.
For most of the second half against France, they adopted a no-risk, no-frills policy after two missed penalties had kept their inferior opponents within a converted try of puncturing the Welsh balloon.
Their success means that the Grand Slam has been won eight times since the Five Nations became Six at the turn of the century.
Far from becoming more difficult to achieve, it has never been done on a more regular basis than in recent seasons.
France won it in 2002, England in 2003, France again in 2004, Wales in 2005, Wales in 2008, Ireland in 2009, France
in 2010 and now Wales again for the third time in eight seasons. Compare that to the first 30 years of post-war competition when it was only eight times – Ireland (1948), Wales (1950, 1952), England (1957), France (1968, 1977), Wales (1971, 1976).
The Six Nations has yet to witness back-to-back Slams. According to France head coach Philippe Saint-Andre, Wales will not do it next year, a view which has nothing to do with the fact that the Red Dragons followed their two previous clean sweeps by slumping to the lower half of the table in 2006 and again in 2009.
“You need to be lucky to win the Grand Slam,” Saint-Andre said before leaving Cardiff. “The Welsh second row should have had a red card against Ireland and if that had happened, I don’t think Wales would have won that game.
“Against England, one or two crucial decisions went for Wales. Next year they have to come to the Stade de France so I don’t think they will win another Slam next season. More Welsh players joining clubs in France will make it difficult for them.”
For Saint-Andre, the championship which he won as a player has proved a sobering initiation as the man in charge. A scrambled draw against Ireland in Paris followed seven days later by England’s worthy win in the same city means that the team who went desperately close to beating the All Blacks in the World Cup final are now fourth best in Europe.
Ireland will be wondering how they came to score more tries (13) and points (121) than anyone else and still contrived to finish out of the top two. Thumping home wins over Italy and Scotland failed to camouflage a general lack of depth, most crucially in the front row and an unhealthy reliance on Mike Ross at tighthead as exposed at Twickenham.
Paul O’Connell’s towering influence becomes even more so in his unavoidable absence. The same can be said of Brian O’Driscoll, out of action all season following shoulder surgery but on his way back for the final weeks of Leinster’s assault on a European Cup and Pro 12 double, perhaps as early as Friday night in Dublin against the Ospreys.
Italy, bottom of the pile for each of the four previous years, dumped Scotland there instead as they had done twice before. The whitewash has left Andy Robinson to ‘reflect’ on his future as head coach although he is under contract to the SRU for three more years.
That the Scots collected more yellow cards (5) than tries (4) is only one reflection of a grim campaign. Richie Gray still managed to stand out, a Lions Test lock if ever there was one over the five matches during which Robinson used no fewer than four fly halves – Dan Parks, Greig Laidlaw, Duncan Weir and Ruaridh Jackson.
England had three (Charlie Hodgson, Owen Farrell, Toby Flood), France three (Francois Trinh-Duc, Lionel Beauxis, Morgan Parra), Ireland two (Jonathan Sexton, Ronan O’Gara), likewise Italy (Kris Burton, Tobias Botes). Wales confined themselves to Rhys Priestland and nobody else, other than for the ten minutes he spent in the naughty chair at Twickenham trying not to look as red as his jersey.
There being no annual international sporting event like it, the Six Nations just ended broke still more box-office records. More than one million spectators watched the 15 games including the biggest crowd for a match in Rome, 72,354 at the Olympic Stadium for the win over Scotland.
1 – Ireland 21, Wales 23.
2 – England 12, Wales 19.
3 – France 22, England 24.
1 – Sam Warburton’s full-length ankle grab at Twickenham to prevent Manu Tuilagi scoring for England.
2 – Owen Farrell proving that the bigger they are, the harder they fall with his fearsome toppling of Imanol Harinordoquy in Paris.
3 – Dan Lydiate’s heroic cross-field pursuit to drag down substitute Jean-Marcellin Buttin and deny France an equalising try in the Millennium Stadium decider.
My team of the tournament:
15. Rob Kearney (Ireland)
14. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)
12. Wesley Fofana (France)
11. George North (Wales)
10. Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)
9. Mike Phillips (Wales)
1. Alex Corbisiero (England)
2. Rory Best (Ireland)
3. Adam Jones (Wales)
4. Richie Gray (Scotland)
5. Paul O’Connell (Ireland)
6. Dan Lydiate (Wales)
7. Sam Warburton (Wales)
8. Sergio Parisse (Italy)
16. William Servat (France)
17. Gethin Jenkins (Wales)
18. Ian Evans (Wales)
19. Stephen Ferris (Ireland)
20. Dimitri Yachvili (France)
21. Owen Farrell (England)
22. Tommy Bowe (Ireland)
15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
14. Alex Cuthbert (Wales)
13. Manu Tuilagi (England)
12. Wesley Fofana (France)
11. Jean-Marcellin Buttin (France)
10. Owen Farrell (England)
9. Conor Murray (Ireland)
1. Rhys Gill (Wales)
2. Ken Owens (Wales)
3. David Attoub (France)
4. Yoann Maestri (France)
5. Geoff Parling (England)
6. Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
7. Chris Robshaw (England)
8. Ben Morgan (England)