Six Nations 2013: Team of the tournament
So Wales have retained the Six Nations title for the first time since 1979, and equalled England's record haul of 26 Championship victories.
Those two matches were probably the most entertaining of the entire tournament, book-ending a Championship that struggled to hit the heights in between.
After a whirlwind start featuring 16 tries over the opening weekend, the next four rounds only brought 21 more, giving a measly tally of 37 from the 15 matches. Last season's total of 46 was the previous lowest.
To put that into perspective, the first three seasons after the Five Nations became Six saw 75 tries scored each year, while the last five seasons have seen an average of 50.
There were fewer than half as many tries as penalty goals (a ratio of 0.39 tries for every successful kick) for the first time in Six Nations history, with this year's tally of 94 penalties setting a new record, one more than in 2000 and 2001.
The weather across the three 'middle' weekends - in Dublin, Rome, Paris and Edinburgh - undoubtedly contributed to that, as did the preponderance of the power game, one based on unyielding defence, kicking for territory, and dominance at the scrum.
So which individuals stood out amid these collisions, crunching tackles and kicking duels?
Inevitably, the memories of the final weekend - and Cardiff in particular - tend to dominate overall impressions, but we have attempted to come up with a team of the tournament based on performances across all five rounds.
With competition so fierce in so many positions, we've also given ourselves the liberty of some honourable mentions (HMs).
FULL-BACK: LEIGH HALFPENNY (WALES). HMs: Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Alex Goode (England), Andrea Masi (Italy)
Six Nations: Most metres made:
- Alex Goode (Eng) 387
- Louis Picamoles (Fra) 351
- Mike Brown (Eng) 347
- Stuart Hogg (Sco) 336
- Yoann Huget (Fra) 288
"He has been the man of the tournament and without peer the way he has played." Not my words, but those of Wales legend Gareth Edwards. Brave in defence, brilliant under the high ball, Leigh Halfpenny was also the top points-scorer (74) with an 81% goal-kicking success rate. Stuart Hogg also impressed for Scotland with some dazzling breaks and individual tries.
RIGHT WING: ALEX CUTHBERT (WALES). HMs: Sean Maitland (Scotland), Craig Gilroy (Ireland), Gio Venditti (Italy)
It was a hardly a vintage tournament for wingers, with only two managing more than a single try. So Alex Cuthbert's four tries stand head and shoulders above everyone else, a bit like the man himself. His defensive positioning and visual awareness are still developing but his power, pace and attacking lines have made him a major weapon in Wales' armoury.
OUTSIDE CENTRE: MANU TUILAGI (ENGLAND). HMs: Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Mathieu Bastareaud (France)
A tough call with no-one consistently good. Brian O'Driscoll started superbly but his frustration got the better of him with his yellow card for a stamp against Italy. Jonathan Davies improved as the tournament went on, while Mathieu Bastareaud showed his power, but Manu Tuilagi just edges it for his barnstorming display against France, even if Wales snuffed out his threat in the decider.
INSIDE CENTRE: WESLEY FOFANA (FRANCE). HMs: Matt Scott (Scotland), Brad Barritt (England)
It was a shame Wesley Fofana was wasted out on the wing for the opening two matches, but he delivered the outstanding individual moment of the Championship with his sensational try at Twickenham when restored to centre, and finished with another smartly taken score against Scotland. Matt Scott impressed for Scotland, while Brad Barritt was a rock for England.
LEFT WING: GEORGE NORTH (WALES). HMs: Tim Visser (Scotland), Mike Brown (England), Luke McLean (Italy)
Six Nations: Most defenders beaten:
- Louis Picamoles (Fra) 15
- Mathieu Bastareaud (Fra) 15
- Rob Kearney (Ire) 14
- George North (Wal) 14
- Alex Cuthbert (Wal) 14
Tim Visser's poacher's instincts for Scotland brought him two tries and made this a close call, but North's all-round game just edged it. A brilliant finish in Paris transformed Wales' campaign, his break led to the only try at Murrayfield, and he would have scored against England but for Brown's tap tackle. A shame injury restricted Simon Zebo to just one full game for Ireland.
FLY-HALF: OWEN FARRELL (ENGLAND). HMs: Dan Biggar (Wales), Luciano Orquera (Italy)
Owen Farrell missed two penalties against Wales with the pressure at its fiercest, but was previously a controlling presence in England's first three games, especially their win in Dublin. With Jonathan Sexton injured in Ireland's second game, and Rhys Priestland out of action, Dan Biggar also propelled himself into Lions contention with some increasingly assured displays.
SCRUM-HALF: MIKE PHILLIPS (WALES). HMs: Ben Youngs (England), Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)
Mike Phillips has his detractors, but the way he took the fight to England confirmed his reputation as a man for the big occasion. His physical power gives Wales a potent extra ball-carrier and tackler around the fringes, while his passing improved as the tournament went on. Ben Youngs also impressed in patches, while Greig Laidlaw's 88% goal-kicking was vital for Scotland.
LOOSE-HEAD PROP: GETHIN JENKINS (WALES). HMs: Mako Vunipola (England), Ryan Grant (Scotland)
Ireland's Cian Healy carried the ball more than any other prop but blotted his copybook with his ugly stamp on England's Dan Cole at Twickenham. Gethin Jenkins, short of match fitness at the outset, got stronger with each game, reasserting himself in Paris and Rome, and finished by leading Wales to the title. The giant Mako Vunipola also served notice of his burgeoning potential for England.
HOOKER: RICHARD HIBBARD (WALES). HMs: Tom Youngs (England), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Italy), Ken Owens (Wales)
Tom Youngs' progress since his conversion from centre has been remarkable, his extra dynamism in the loose pushing him ahead of Dylan Hartley for England. But Richard Hibbard's impact was huge, coming into the Wales side in Paris and helping make their scrum a weapon that won 26 penalties overall. His tackling was also something to behold, as Joe Marler will testify.
TIGHT-HEAD PROP: ADAM JONES (WALES). HMs: Euan Murray (Scotland)
Many thought England's Dan Cole had stolen a march on the Lions Test jersey before the Six Nations, but by the end of it Adam Jones had restored his reputation as one of the best - if not the best - tight-heads in the northern hemisphere. After some struggles in Paris, the Welsh scrum was dominant in their final three matches, with Jones the cornerstone.
LOCK: JOE LAUNCHBURY (England). HMs: Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Jim Hamilton (Scotland), Andrew Coombs (Wales)
Six Nations: Top tacklers:
- Tom Wood (Eng) 70
- Kelly Brown (Sco) 69
- Chris Robshaw (Eng) 65
- Thierry Dusautoir (Fra) 58
- Ryan Grant (Sco) 52
Joe Launchbury, like other England players, appeared to struggle with the extreme physicality of the decider in Cardiff, but until then the 21-year-old's athleticism, breakdown prowess and tackling (he made 51, more than any other lock) confirmed the arrival of a major talent. Alun Wyn Jones only started Wales' last two games, but reasserted his class in emphatic style.
LOCK: IAN EVANS (WALES). HMs: Donnacha Ryan (Ireland), Geoff Parling (England)
Until Ireland's late wobble in Rome, Donnacha Ryan was the dominant line-out presence in the tournament, assuming the mantle of the absent Paul O'Connell. Geoff Parling is also highly influential in England's evolving side, but Evans was one of the unsung stars for Wales, a reliable target in the line-out, heavy scrummager, willing ball carrier and punishing tackler.
BLIND-SIDE FLANKER: ALESSANDRO ZANNI (ITALY). HMs: Ryan Jones (Wales), Tom Wood (England)
Ryan Jones had a major influence on Wales' campaign, marshalling the troops superbly before injury forced him out of the decider. Tom Wood started at six before moving to eight and remained a defiant presence, topping the tournament tackle count with 70. But Alessandro Zanni, over-shadowed by the more illustrious Sergio Parisse, was superb again. As well as his ball-carrying (50), tackling (36) and line-out presence (19), Zanni also made 12 offloads, four more than any other player.
OPEN-SIDE FLANKER: CHRIS ROBSHAW (ENGLAND). HMs: Sean O'Brien (Ireland), Sam Warburton (Wales), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Kelly Brown (Scotland)
Six Nations: Ball carriers
- Louis Picamoles (Fra) 70
- Sean O'Brien (Ire) 69
- Toby Faletau (Wal) 63
- Chris Robshaw (Eng) 57
- Andrea Masi (Ita) 53
Stats courtesy of Opta Sports
Debate over Chris Robshaw's suitability for the open-side role will only intensify as Lions selection comes to the boil, and Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric both delivered stand-out performances more akin to an out-and-out seven. But the England captain had a fine Championship, his influence - third highest number of tackles (65), fourth in ball-carrying (57) - bringing two man-of-the-match awards. Sean O'Brien's power and relentlessness also shone in a grisly campaign for Ireland.
NUMBER EIGHT: LOUIS PICAMOLES (FRANCE). HMs: Toby Faletau (Wales), Sergio Parisse (Italy), Johnnie Beattie (Scotland)
Worthy candidates abound, and Toby Faletau can consider himself unlucky after a superb campaign. Sergio Parisse provided more sublime moments, but Louis Picamoles announced himself a worthy successor to Imanol Harinordoquy. He carried the ball (70 times) more than any other player, made more metres (351) than any other forward, topped the players beaten stats (15) and scored two tries to boot. A real handful.
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