Six of the best: Six Nations highlights
Close contests, fabulous tries, new stars and the wonders of Wales have made this the best tournament since the Five Nations expanded by one
This was the best Championship since the Five Nations became Six in 2000. England's dominance in 2003 and Wales's emergence from the doldrums in 2005 and Shane Williams-inspired attack of 2008 have their claims, but 2012 has entertained and intrigued all round.
Scotland's struggles against their tight-forward inadequacy and Italy's near-miss against England have been contributing factors; so too the settling down of the laws since the experimental meddling of a few seasons back.
Wales's third Grand Slam in eight years matches neatly their glory boys of the 1970s: those formative days, for so many, of colour TV and Bill McLaren's brogue. Would Gerald Davies have been able to sidestep today's huge Wales wings who look like they have stepped off a basketball court via a Venice Beach gymnasium? Were the England side who won 29 out of 36 Championship matches from 1996 to 2003, but with only one Slam, better than the latter-day Wales, who have had their lean streaks? Unanswerable questions, delicious debate.
What we know is that this Welsh team captained by son of a fireman, Sam Warburton, (and Ryan Jones and Gethin Jenkins when the flanker was injured) are fit and tight-knit with a pragmatic style under Warren Gatland, Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley recognisable from the coaches' previous stint winning trophies with Wasps.
Some of us doubted at the outset of the Championship that Wales would cope with their tight-five injuries. A desperately narrow win in Ireland got them going and they have marched on through this Six Nations' snow, frost, rain and warming sun.
Six tries of the Six Nations
1: Ben Foden for England v France. Bemoan the soft French tackling? No, celebrate the will to counter as Ben Morgan catches, runs, and slips a one-handed pass to Foden.
2: Manu Tuilagi for England v France. Foden contests a high ball (was it a knock-on?), Dimitri Szarzewski is slammed by Chris Ashton, Owen Farrell tidies up the loose ball, Tuilagi races 45 metres.
3: Jonathan Davies for Wales v Ireland. A Jamie Roberts decoy run distracts, George North with a floating sidestep and a straight dart goes between Gordon D'Arcy and Fergus McFadden, and flips a supple backhander pass for Davies to run it in.
4: Tom Croft for England v France. The clock reads 70 minutes, there are two points in it. Farrell spots England jerseys wide, passes long to Brad Barritt to Croft who bursts 30 metres. Individually brilliant.
5: Julien Malzieu for France v Italy. French shove Italy scrum off their own ball, Louis Picamoles from No 8 goes blind across the gainline, Malzieu bobs and weaves through four Italian defenders.
6: Richie Gray Scotland v Ireland. A ruck on the 22, a great blond gazelle has escaped from the local zoo? No, it's Gray on the gallop, finishing with a dummied pass to outwit Rob Kearney.
Owen Farrell's armoury may be missing the odd weapon, and the 20-year-old fly-half will soon face competition from fellow tyros such as George Ford and Tom Heathcote. But Farrell's sang-froid served new England well.
Wales' Leigh Halfpenny looks as if he's halfway through a Bruce Banner to Hulk-style transformation.
BBC TV commentator Brian Moore frothing at referee Alain Rolland's handling of the scrum. "I don't care if he speaks French. It just means he's getting it wrong in two languages."
ESPN and BBC analyst Austin Healey in reply to a suggestion that Halfpenny is twice the player Healey was. "I've had sh**s with more talent."
Postponing France v Ireland at the last minute with 80,000 people in the stadium. A week of weather forecasts and first-hand testimony predicted the Stade de France pitch would freeze. It did.
Referee Dave Pearson, blameless in calling the France v Ireland match off, had been an assistant in Dublin a week before, somehow recommending only a yellow card when Wales's Bradley Davies played tossing-the-caber with Ireland's Donnacha Ryan.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster slicing his finger open hitting a light fitting as he celebrated the win in Edinburgh.
Stuart Lancaster protégé Danny Care had been mentioned as England leadership material – until a drink-driving offence saw him dropped for the Six Nations by his one-time mentor at Leeds.
The Three Invisible Men
1: Nick Mallett, about whom much was written in connection with the England head coach job. Sighted only by viewers of Supersport in South Africa where he did his homework analysing Six Nations matches. 2: Probable England captain Tom Wood missed the Championship injured. 3: Scotland fly-half Dan Parks played against England before retiring.
The quietest spin doctoring
A humorous article on George North, depicting the mighty Welsh wing barking Tarzan-like orders to his minions, was removed from website espnscrum.com after complaints by the Welsh Rugby Union.
The most uplifting sideshows
Packed houses for Wales Under-20 matches in north Wales and the increasing broadcast coverage for the women's Six Nations.
Six things we learnt from the Six Nations:
1: It's a young man's game – Toby Faletau, George North, Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi, Stuart Hogg – give them their head and let the coaches stand or fall.
2: If the Lions XV for 2013 was picked now it would be...
3: Warren Gatland will be the next Lions coach. Is it logical for a foreigner to coach an international team? Probably not, but Wales don't seem to mind.
4: It's been easier to win a Grand Slam in the Six Nations than when it was Five: Wales's is the eighth in 11 seasons.
5: Players and coaches aren't angels. Scrum-halves take the mickey out of spectators by keeping the ball in the ruck for hours. It must and will be outlawed.
6: TV replays don't always provide proof. Did Dave Strettle score against Wales? We need to invent a grass-cam.
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