A Grand Slam, a comeback and a golf buggy
March 23, 2010
Thierry Dusautioir lifts the Six Nations trophy © Getty Images
The quality may not have matched the drama, but as another Six Nations campaign is catalogued in the records it would be remiss not to revisit a few of the highs and lows that have captivated fans for the last two months.
There was an unbelievable comeback, a fond farewell ruined, an attack of the munchies, a little progress, a few backward steps and a Grand Chelem. See you next year.
That's one big Bastareaud
The opening day of the Six Nations had seen a costly trip from Alun-Wyn Jones at Twickenham and a dirge at Croke Park as Ireland defeated Italy. Sunday rolled around and all eyes were on Murrayfield, where France were the visitors to a hopeful Scotland. Scottish tight-head Euan Murray was absent due his religious beliefs, but France's Mathieu Bastareaud had no problem in getting through plenty of work on a Sunday afternoon.
Having been banished from the Test scene due to his indiscretions on tour to New Zealand in 2009, the Stade Francais centre wasted no time on his return in announcing his arrival as a Test midfielder of note. He bashed his way to two tries as France held the Scots at arm's length, completing step one of their clean sweep with something to spare.
"It's not good for the nerves at this age, I'll be honest with you."
They might not have deserved it over 80 minutes. There may have been some doubts over the refereeing. Irrelevant. Shane Williams' last-gasp try to beat Scotland at the Millennium Stadium was a moment of pure theatre, the local hero saving the day.
A crestfallen Andy Robinson was left with two defeats for Scotland and serious injuries to wing Thom Evans and fullback Chris Paterson, who was winning his 100th cap. As defeats go there won't be many more disappointing. For Williams, Leigh Halfpenny and Lee Byrne, the Welsh back-three, there won't be many tries that they'll savour more. The noise was deafening inside the ground and this is a game that will be referenced for years to come.
The end of the dream
Without a doubt the performance of the tournament came hours after Wales' resurrection. France blew reigning Grand Slam champions Ireland away with a performance of confidence, power and skill. Bastareaud was again prominent, as was his centre partner Yannick Jauzion, while the quality produced by Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc at halfback was a portent of things to come.
Ireland subsequently bounced back against England and Wales but the damage to their challenge was done. France, meanwhile, had set a precedent that they failed to live up to in their following games. This performance nevertheless sat over their shoulder as a reminder to their rivals that they were a side not to be trifled with, and what do you know, it worked.
"I've done stupid things before when I've had too many sherbets but nothing like this."
Andy Powell. 'Too many sherbets'. A golf buggy. The M4 services. Some police. Exile from the Wales camp. A driving ban. The End.
A difference of opinion
fan*tas*tic (fan tas′tik) adjective extraordinarily good or attractive (Oxford English Dictionary)
Not England's trip to Rome, then. England, particularly against France and in flashes against Wales, proved that they had the skill and nous to play open rugby. Against Italy, they were leaden and unimaginative and, after conspiring to almost lose the game, got both barrels from the media and fans.
Chief among the gripes was skipper Steve Borthwick's post-match interview. "Obviously we want to win all our games by as big a margin as we can, but we did some fantastic stuff," he said. To bring it up again seems almost gratuitous, but come on Steve.
The Party Pooper
The final game at Croke Park was given a huge build-up. The home of the Gaelic Atheltic Association had served Ireland wonderfully since it opened its doors to rugby in 2007, housing their home games during the 2009 Grand Slam and special meetings with England in 2007 and South Africa in 2009.
France's Vincent Clerc spoiled their first game there with a last-minute try and the farewell was equally muted as Dan Parks pulled the rug out from under Declan Kidney and Co. Parks collected the winning points from the kicking tee, and a third Man of the Match gong of the tournament, while the Scottish back-row was again immense. Their lineout was superior to the much-vaunted Irish set-piece, and all-in-all, it was a well deserved victory.
England so nearly ruined the party. Martin Johnson had another defeat to rue but must have been cheered by the improvement in performance. Ben Foden's try was the best piece of play produced by the red rose boys in the Championship, and pointed to some behind-the-scenes homework, but it wasn't quite enough.
The rain came and Morgan Parra dragged France kicking and screaming onto an even keel. His kicking game drew England's sting and while Chris Ashton almost made it a Saints double-whammy in the second-half, a loss for France here would have been a disappointment not only for their fans, but for fans of the game.
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham
"These little deft touches, the nuances O'Driscoll has perfected are what Ireland will miss most." Tom Hamilton on Brian O'Driscoll's final Test in Dublin