The 2021 Guinness Six Nations drew to a close with Scotland edging to a 27-23 victory over France with a try with the clock four minutes into the red.
The game took place almost a week after the tournament should have finished and confirmed Wales’ title.
It was a Championship like no other after the coronavirus pandemic meant empty stadia and players and coaching teams living and working in bio-secure training bubbles.
Here, the PA news agency looks at five things we learnt from this season’s competition.
Crowds cannot return soon enough
The coronavirus pandemic meant that all 15 games in this season’s Six Nations took place behind closed doors. From the Aviva Stadium in Dublin to Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, matches were punctuated only by players’ shouts and the referee’s whistle. And not only were the grounds deserted, normally-thronging streets outside – central Cardiff being arguably the most obvious example – were empty as shutters stayed down on bars, pubs and restaurants. It was a weird experience for all concerned, yet to everyone’s credit, the quality of rugby on show was not diminished in any way.
England at a crossroads on coaching front
England, World Cup finalists 16 months ago, slumped to a fifth-placed finish on the back of defeats against Scotland, Ireland and Wales, which some have christened the Triple Frown. Head coach Eddie Jones will now be the central figure in what Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney describes as a “brutally honest analysis” of England’s Six Nations campaign, and while Jones is expected to stay at the helm – in his favour is a win ratio of 77 per cent since he took charge – it seems change in some areas is inevitable, with coaching staff and playing personnel certain to be scrutinised.
France building ominously towards home World Cup
When France kick off the next Rugby World Cup on home soil against New Zealand in September 2023, Les Bleus will aim to have arrived as serious contenders for a first world title. Everything suggests they are heading in the right direction – from a coaching perspective under the astute guidance of Fabien Galthie, to a playing squad packed with quality and headed by the likes of Antoine Dupont, Charles Ollivon, Mathieu Jalibert, Romain Ntamack and Gregory Alldritt. It would appear that France are at their strongest for years, and if they can handle huge home World Cup expectation, then winning rugby’s golden prize is a realistic ambition.
Wales boss Wayne Pivac silences doubters
Pivac faced a difficult assignment when he was appointed as Warren Gatland’s successor to become Wales head coach. Starting work in November 2019, Pivac took over from one of the most successful coaches in rugby history who masterminded four Six Nations title triumphs, three Grand Slams and two World Cup semi-final appearances during his time in charge. A tough first year followed, with Wales losing seven Tests, but they ended the current Six Nations campaign just seconds away from achieving a Grand Slam. He also made some big calls and successful decisions, which contributed to confirming that the Welsh Rugby Union got its appointment spot-on.
Alun Wyn Jones must captain the Lions
At the age of 35, Wales skipper Jones just keeps going and going. He holds the world Test match appearance record – 157 games for Wales and the British and Irish Lions – and was within touching distance this season of becoming the first player to win four Six Nations Grand Slams. Lions head coach Gatland knows him as well as anyone from their time together with Wales, and when it comes to appointing a captain for this summer’s scheduled South Africa tour, Gatland will know that Jones pretty much ticks every box. Other players have captaincy credentials, but Jones’ CV stands out.