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The red of the species did their bit in and out of Wales, rising to every occasion in reminding the rugby world that a Grand Slam settles every argument.
Other tournaments have long been sold on bonus points as a means of stimulating interest but the RBS 6 Nations has always been different, an international competition apart doing it their way.
Had bonus points been on offer during this year’s championship, their distribution would have made not a jot of difference to the final pecking order.
Wales would still have been first, England second, Ireland third, France fourth, Italy fifth and Scotland sixth.
Under the bonus system used elsewhere – one for four or more tries and one for losing by seven points or fewer – the RBS 6 Nations would have generated a total of eleven extra points as follows:
Scotland 3 – losing bonus against England (6-13), France (17-23) and Italy (6-13).
France 3 – try bonus against Italy (30-12), losing bonus against England (22-24) and Wales (9-16).
Ireland 3 – try bonus against Italy (42-10) and Scotland (32-14), losing bonus against Wales (21-23).
Italy 1 – losing bonus against England (15-19).
England 1 – losing bonus against Wales (12-19).
With four points for a win and two for a draw, the final order would have been exactly the same: Wales (20), England (17), Ireland (13) above France (13) on points difference, Italy (5), Scotland (3).
In other words, the bonus system would not have made a blind bit of difference. Nor would it have done for most of the other seasons since the turn of the century.
The one exception would have been in 2007. France took the title that year in a photo-finish from Ireland.
Both won four of their five matches and in the end it took a last-minute try from Elvis Vermeulen against Scotland in Paris for France to clinch the prize on points-difference from the Irish despite their thrashing of Italy in Rome a little earlier that same afternoon.
Under the bonus method, France would have been awarded two extra points, for four or more tries against Italy and Scotland.
Ireland, with four or more tries at home to England and away to Italy, would have matched them on that score and gone one better with a losing bonus from their last-minute defeat by France in Dublin.
That would have given Ireland the title with 19 points to France’s 18. And what would that have done for the credibility of the Six Nations given that Ireland were the team to beat that season and the French had done just that in the first Championship match staged at Croke Park?
Vincent Clerc’s try, immediately after Ronan O’Gara’s fourth penalty had put Ireland four points clear with not much more than a minute left on the clock, scuppered what would otherwise have been an Irish Slam. France, then under Raphael Ibanez, had beaten Italy and Wales either side of their Houdini stunt in Dublin only to come apart at Twickenham.
They were undone, ironically, by an England team almost completely changed from the one Ireland had outclassed 43-13 at Croke Park in the previous round a fortnight earlier. Under Mike Catt’s enterprising captaincy, they created two thrilling tries on a day which featured the baptism a new fly half born in England to Irish parents – Shane Geraghty.
The 2002 RBS 6 Nations provides a strong argument against bonus points. France won the Slam that year by virtue of a 20-15 home win over an England team for all seasons, except perhaps Paris in the spring, their last defeat in the tournament before their crowning as World Cup winners in Sydney some eighteen months later.
Under Sir Clive Woodward, England won their four other matches in 2002 with a flood of tries which would have earned them four bonus points. A losing one for their near miss at the Stade de France would have given them 21 points in all.
France, by contrast, would have gained nothing more than one bonus point, for a thumping home win over Ireland, leaving them level with England but with an inferior points-difference.
The absurdity of a Grand Slam winner actually finishing second is surely one good reason why the Six Nations have wisely avoided dabbling in bonus points.
They will doubtless review it again before next year and surely come to the same conclusion, that the tournament is good enough without it.
Next year Wales will attempt to do something which has never been done in the RBS 6 Nations – successive Grand Slams.
They believe, with ample justification, that they are young enough and good enough to make a serious attempt at beating everyone else home and away in consecutive seasons.
One man has gone on record with the prediction that it will be beyond them. When I asked Philippe Saint-Andre whether he thought Wales would repeat their clean sweep in 2013, the France coach answered in the negative.
“It’s very difficult to win a Grand Slam,” he said. “Next year they have to come to the Stade de France so I don’t think they will win it again in twelve months’ time. You need to be lucky to win the Grand Slam.
“Their second row (Bradley Davies) 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 them. The growing number of Welsh players joining clubs in France will also make it more difficult for them.”