Six Nations 2011 - How was it for you?
So what have we learned from this Six Nations?
Well, let's take it country by country first, and then we'll have a few awards, and then a team of the tournament.
England are on the up, and deserved to be crowned champions, but still have a way to go before they can be confident of consistently beating the best teams in the world. Their defence and set-pieces were strong, so too their willingness to attack.
France were France, starting and finishing in style but in between failing to go the distance against England, which was understandable, and Italy, which was unthinkable. Powerful but inconsistent, and hampered by Marc Lievremont's selectorial tinkering.
Ireland were scratchy, but produced probably the most sustained passage of high-intensity rugby of the tournament against England. They also found a scrum, and had the best defence. Regrets for sure, but with big players back to form, more to come.
Wales won a game more than last year but still finished in the bottom three for the 10th time in 12 years. They kicked more ball, and conceded more penalties, than anyone. Still have the players to do better, but some serious tactical thinking required.
Scotland should spend less time talking about what they can do, and more time doing it better. They won only one game for the fifth year in a row. More off-loads in the tackle than anyone, but couldn't hang onto the ball. But six tries was twice last year's tally.
Italy could have won three matches, but the one they did was the highlight of the Championship. Until they have greater strength in playing numbers, will always struggle for consistency, but beating France was deserved reward for their contribution.
Best match? For quality, excitement and not knowing which way it would go until the last mad-cap breakout which nearly saw a winning try, Ireland's 22-25 defeat by France in Round Two was probably the pick. But for sheer emotion, intensity, drama and a slice of history, Italy's 22-21 victory over France was the stand-out moment.
Worst match? Correct me if I'm wrong, but after the first 20 minutes, Scotland 6-24 Wales looked like the ultimate non-event, even if it was a vital victory for the visitors. Certainly Scotland's lowest point, and there were a few.
Best try? For probably the individual moment of skill in the entire championship, France fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc's instinctive pass through his legs to put Imanol Harinordoquy away against Scotland on the opening day took some beating.
For sentimental reasons, the try against England that saw Brian O'Driscoll set a new Championship record of 25. Three more this year, second only to England's Chris Ashton. BOD says he wants to play more games in the tournament, after the World Cup. Let's hope so. As Martin Johnson said before the England game, he's been the player of the last decade in European rugby. We'll miss him when he's gone.
Best tackle? England full-back Ben Foden thought he'd have the beating of Chris Paterson on the outside at Twickenham, but his Scotland counterpart proved he still has the pace, courage and intelligence to keep up with the youngsters.
Biggest balls-up? Scottish touch judge Peter Allan will have nightmares anytime someone asks him 'Are you sure?' for the rest of his life. Referee Jonathan Kaplan asked him for confirmation that Wales had used the same ball that was kicked into touch at the line-out from which Mike Phillips scored the winning try for Wales against Ireland. He nodded. Replays proved otherwise, and Ireland were incensed.
Team of the Tournament?
15 Ben Foden (Eng) For consistency throughout, even if he struggled in Dublin. Honourable mentions (HMs) to Italy's Andrea Masi for a colossal display in the win over France, and Scotland's Chris Paterson for enduring quality.
14 Chris Ashton (Eng) Six tries in first two games, none in last three, but continued to show up all over the place in search of more. Tommy Bowe missed the first two rounds, but had returned to top form for the finale against England. Class act.
13 Brian O'Driscoll (Ire) Has there been a year when he hasn't got in? Not always at his supreme best, but remains a try-scorer, defensive rock and leader par excellence. HMs to the Italian Gonzos, Canale and Garcia.
12 Jonathan Davies (Wal) While his more senior partner Jamie Roberts remained a muted threat, the Scarlets man enjoyed a breakthrough campaign. HM too for Sean Lamont, a winger with attitude who gave Scotland some momentum up the middle.
11 Vincent Clerc (Fra) Could equally have been his team-mate Maxime Medard, who dazzled periodically. The elusive Clerc has been around a while, but showed the folly of leaving him out initially. HMs to Max Evans, Mark Cueto and Mirco Bergamasco.
10 Toby Flood (Eng) Tough one this. Flood starred in England's opening two wins, stuttered slightly and stumbled in Dublin, but overall he was in credit, and kicked 19 out of 22 at goal. He and France's Francois Trinh-Duc were the only fly-halves who started each game, the other four countries chopping and changing. James Hook impressed in the three games he started at 10, and it is to be hoped Wales give him a decent run there now. HMs to Jonathan Sexton and Ruaridh Jackson.
9 Ben Youngs (Eng) A chastening finale for the youngster when he was sin-binned before half-time in Dublin and then replaced, but he still played a prominent part in making England champions. HM to Italy newcomer Fabio Semenzato.
1 Thomas Domingo (Fra) Bizarrely dropped for the Italy game and then swiftly restored, the squat Clermont prop caused problems at scrum-time, and was energetic around the field. HM to England's Alex Corbisiero. Looked at home in Test rugby.
2 William Servat (Fra) A close call. Dylan Hartley was superb for England for four matches, ignoring pre-match jibes from opposition coaches to deliver some mature displays. But Servat's consistency in a powerful front row continues to impress.
3 Martin Castrogiovanni (Ita) England's Dan Cole tailed off a bit while Mike Ross is indispensable now Ireland - who didn't lose a single scrum - have belatedly picked him. Castro had a shocker at Twickenham but was otherwise a tower of strength.
4 Richie Gray (Sco) His blond hair and size mean he's noticed more than most, but clearly a player who can be a beacon for Scotland - and the Lions - for years. HMs to England's Louis Deacon, Bradley Davies of Wales and France's Lionel Nallet.
5 Tom Palmer (Eng) Missed when he went off early in Dublin, the Paris-based lock had a fine tournament, and was man-of-the-match in the win over France. Secure at the line-out, and highly skilled elsewhere. HM to Paul O'Connell. Back to form.
6 Sean O'Brien (Ire) And to think Ireland also have Stephen Ferris waiting to return. The Leinster man justified the pre-tournament hype with his explosive ball-carrying. Another Lion in the making. HMs to Tom Wood (emerging class) and Thierry Dusautoir (enduring).
7 Sam Warburton (Wal) A few eyebrows raised when Martyn Williams was left out of the Wales squad, but the youngster more than justified the faith placed in him. James Haskell also excelled in the hybrid role England gave him in Lewis Moody's absence.
8 Sergio Parisse (Ita) Imanol Harinordoquy impressed when France coach Marc Lievremont picked him, and Jamie Heaslip finished strongly on his return from injury, but the great Sergio was probably the most talented player in the whole tournament.
Just for fun, here's a quick Lions XV based on performances in the Six Nations, two years out from the next tour to Australia. No doubt others will emerge, but most of these should still be in the mix in 2013.
Ben Foden, Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll (if he's still going), Jonathan Davies, Chris Ashton, James Hook, Ben Youngs; Cian Healy, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Richie Gray, Tom Palmer, Sean O'Brien, Sam Warburton, Jamie Heaslip.
Many of you who responded to my blog from Dublin thought that this was a poor-quality Six Nations, which will do nothing to enhance the prospects of any of the teams going into the World Cup later this year.
I'd agree that it wasn't a vintage Championship, even if it produced one epic moment of drama (Italy v France) which will live long in the memory. Most years do.
What would represent a great Six Nations? One team consistently prevailing over the rest with a brand of all-singing, all-dancing rugby? Whenever a country does that - for example Wales, in 2005 or 2008 - there are always those ready to denigrate the achievement by lamenting the poor quality of the opposition.
Or two or three teams still in with a chance of the title going into the final weekend? Can it still be high quality if the prospective champions lose at least one game?
Having just returned from Ireland's Fair City, I'm going to leave the last word on this year's Championship to one respondent to my blog from the weekend (no 71 - stenakt), as it probably most resembles my own view.
- "Long live the 6 nations. The quality of the rugby may not sometimes be as good as the SH, but the diversity, history and tradition of the 6N is tough to beat. If you don't believe me, try a night in Dublin after a 6N match."