France ended their 12-year wait for a Men’s Six Nations Championship title as victory over England wrapped up a 10th Grand Slam.
World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year 2021, in association with Mastercard, Antoine Dupont scored Les Bleus’ decisive third try in Paris, which secured a 25-13 win.
Victory was France’s fifth out of five in the 2022 Championship and ensured they finished four points clear of Ireland, who earlier maintained their slim hopes of pipping Les Bleus to the title with a defeat of Scotland in Dublin.
Super Saturday kicked off with a piece of history, meanwhile, as Italy secured a first ever win against Wales in Cardiff to end a seven-year run without a Championship victory.
Following six weeks of intense action it was a fitting way to bring down the curtain on a thrilling men’s Six Nations. Below we recap what happened and how France secured a momentous Grand Slam.
This year’s Six Nations got underway in Dublin, where Ireland mastered the blustery conditions to secure a bonus-point 29-7 defeat of Wales.
Bundee Aki, Andrew Conway (twice) and Garry Ringrose all crossed the whitewash while Johnny Sexton added nine points with the boot before Taine Basham added a late consolation try for the visitors.
In Edinburgh, Ben White scored his first test try less than six minutes into his debut to help Scotland to a 20-17 win against England.
Marcus Smith scored all of England’s points but was withdrawn in the final quarter and could only watch on as a penalty try confirmed the hosts’ third victory in five Calcutta Cup matches under Gregor Townsend.
On Sunday, Italy led France 7-3 and then 10-8 during the first half in Paris as Paolo Garbisi converted debutant Tommaso Menoncello’s try and then added a penalty.
But Gabin Villiere’s try on the stroke of half-time gave the hosts an 18-10 lead at the break and the winger went on to complete his hat-trick as Les Bleus claimed a bonus-point 37-10 win.
France were the only unbeaten team after two matches of the 2022 Championship following a pulsating encounter with Ireland in which they held off a second-half fightback to win 30-24.
The hosts looked to be on course for a comfortable victory early in the second half in Paris as Melvyn Jaminet stroked over his fifth penalty of the match to give Les Bleus a 22-7 lead.
Within a minute though, Josh van der Flier had powered over to cut the deficit and France’s advantage was down to just a solitary point when Ireland scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park jinked his way over the goal line.
Cyril Baille’s unconverted try stretched France’s lead but a Joey Carberry penalty set up a nervous final seven minutes for the Stade de France crowd.
Jaminet was just held up as he attempted to score the match-securing try, but instead made sure of victory with a penalty, his sixth of the evening.
Earlier, Wales kickstarted their campaign with a hard-fought 20-17 defeat of Scotland at the Principality Stadium.
Scotland went into the opening match of Round Two on the back of their Calcutta Cup win over England and built a 14-9 lead in Cardiff thanks to Darcy Graham’s stunning finish.
Wales prop Tomas Francis burrowed over from close range to draw the hosts level ahead of half-time and the contest continued in a see-saw manner following the break.
The decisive moment came in the 70th minute when Wales captain Dan Biggar dropped a goal with his opposite number Finn Russell in the sin bin.
Round Two concluded with England’s visit to Rome where Eddie Jones’ side got their own Championship challenge back on track with a bonus-point 33-0 win.
Marcus Smith converted his own try to open the scoring at the Stadio Olimpico and the visitors took control of the contest as Jamie George crossed the whitewash twice before half-time.
Replacement Elliot Daly went over early in the second half before Kyle Sinckler went over in the 73rd minute to put the seal on victory.
France maintained their unbeaten start to the 2022 Championship as they beat Scotland 36-17 at Murrayfield to kick off Round Three.
Antoine Dupont produced a moment of magic to launch the attack that led to Paul Willemse scoring the opening try of the match. Yoram Moefana then finished off another slick team move to give Les Bleus a 12-3 lead with less than 13 minutes on the clock.
Scotland hit back through Rory Darge and had an opportunity to take the lead before half-time, but captain Stuart Hogg could not hold onto Chris Harris’ pass.
Instead, tries from Gaël Fickou and Jonathan Danty either side of the interval put France in control and Damian Penaud’s late brace made sure of victory before Duhan van der Merwe crossed for Scotland in the final minute.
Later, England secured their second win of the Championship as they held off a second-half fightback from Wales to win 23-19 at Twickenham.
Four penalties from the boot of Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt’s opportunistic try gave the hosts a 17-0 lead at the beginning of the second half.
Tomos Williams kickstarted the Welsh response as he produced a brilliant, scoring pass for Josh Adams to dot down in the left corner in the 54th minute. Former England U20 centre Nick Tompkins then burrowed over from close range to bring Wales within five points of their hosts.
However, after Ben Youngs had been introduced to become England’s most-capped men’s player, two further Smith penalties edged England’s lead beyond 10 points.
That meant the visitors needed to find another score after Kieran Hardy’s try in the final minute and Wales ultimately ran out of time.
Ireland moved up to second in the men’s Six Nations standings, three points behind France, with a 57-6 defeat of Italy, who were reduced to 12 players before the end.
Ireland led 7-3, thanks to a Joey Carberry try, at the Aviva Stadium when replacement Italy hooker Hame Faiva was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle in the 19th minute.
As starting hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi was injured, the match went to uncontested scrums and the Azzurri were required to go down to 13 men for the rest of the match.
The hosts subsequently ran in tries through Jamison Gibson-Park, Michael Lowry and Peter O’Mahony to take a 24-6 lead into half-time.
The hosts remained in control after the break as James Lowe (twice), debutant Lowry again, Ryan Baird and Kieran Treadwell all crossed the whitewash. Ireland’s final two tries came against 12 players, as Braam Steyn had been shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on.
France put themselves within 80 minutes of a first Grand Slam in 12 years following a hard-fought 13-9 defeat of Wales in Cardiff.
In a match in which defences were on top, Anthony Jelonch’s try, scored with less than nine minutes on the clock, proved decisive.
Wales’ best chance of the match came in the second half, but Jonathan Davies could not hold onto Taulupe Faletau’s inside pass following a smart cross-field kick from Dan Biggar.
The losing bonus-point does at least mean Wales cannot finish bottom of the 2022 Championship standings ahead of their Super Saturday clash with Italy.
Kieran Crowley’s men remain winless after Scotland withstood a late comeback from them to win 33-22 at the Stadio Olimpico.
First-half tries from Sam Johnson and Chris Harris (two) gave the visitors a 19-10 lead at the break in Rome, and they made sure of both a bonus point and victory as Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg crossed before the hour mark.
Ange Capuozzo came off the bench to make his Italy debut and scored twice – to add to Callum Braley’s earlier effort – but it proved too little, too late as Scotland held on.
Gregor Townsend’s men finished Round Four level on points with England, who were reduced to 14 men just 82 seconds into their defeat to Ireland at Twickenham.
Charlie Ewels was the player sent off, for a dangerous tackle on James Ryan, and Ireland built a 15-9 half-time lead as James Lowe and Hugo Keenan both dotted down.
However, cheered on by a vociferous home support and despite winger Jack Nowell packing down at flanker at scrum time for much of the match, England drew level at 15-15 with less than 20 minutes to play.
Ireland edged in front through a Johnny Sexton penalty in the 66th minute before Jack Conan and Finlay Bealham both touched down in the final eight minutes to secure a bonus point and a record margin of victory for the visitors at Twickenham.
Les Bleus needed to beat England to be sure of a first men’s Championship title since 2010, and they began in the ascendancy at the Stade de France.
Gaël Fickou scored the opening try of the match in the 15th minute and when Francois Cros crashed over on the stroke of half-time it gave the hosts an 18-6 lead.
England threatened a comeback at the start of the second half as Freddie Steward crossed the whitewash to help bring the visitors within five points.
But any fears the raucous home crowd felt were soon forgotten as Dupont took a pass from Grégory Alldritt, evaded a couple of attempted tackles and touched down next to the posts. France were able to see out the final 20 minutes to secure a deserved clean sweep.
Ireland had kept the pressure on Les Bleus with an earlier 26-5 defeat of Scotland on Super Saturday.
Needing to win to have any chance of edging France to the Championship title, the hosts built a 14-0 lead with around half an hour played in Dublin thanks to tries from Dan Sheehan and Cian Healy.
Scotland hit back before the break, through Pierre Schoeman, and could have cut the deficit even further at the beginning of the second half, but Stuart Hogg elected not to pass and was excellently tackled into touch by Hugo Keenan.
Ireland made the most of the let off as Josh van der Flier secured their third try and Conor Murray burrowed over to wrap up a bonus point and put the seal on a Triple Crown-securing victory.
Earlier, Ange Capuozzo was the hero for Italy as his late, mazy run set up Edoardo Padovani for the try that secured a maiden win against Wales at the Principality Stadium.
Padovani had sent two long-range penalties sailing through the posts during the first half as the Azzurri went into half-time in Cardiff leading 12-7.
It looked as though Wales had done enough to secure another home win in the fixture, however, as Dewi Lake and Josh Adams crossed the whitewash in the second half, to add to Owen Watkins’ 28th-minute effort.
But, Capuozzo had other ideas and possessed the presence of mind to pass inside to Padovani with the line in his sights, to ensure Paolo Garbisi had an easier conversion. The Azzurri number 10 did not pass up the opportunity, igniting wild Italian celebrations.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2021?
Wales were a side transformed as they put a difficult introductory period to Wayne Pivac’s reign as head coach behind them to claim their sixth title this century.
Pivac’s side profited from playing against 14-man opponents in the first two rounds as they beat Ireland 21-16 and Scotland 25-24. A 40-24 victory over England in round three was then followed by a 48-7 win over Italy in Rome, to put Wales one step away from a Grand Slam.
Wales went to Paris and took the game to France to lead by 10 points with five minutes remaining. But in a dramatic finale where both teams were reduced in numbers, France broke their hearts to win 32-30 thanks to a late Brice Dulin try in the 82nd minute.
With Wales’ five matches finished, they could only sit and wait as France hosted Scotland six days later in the postponed round three fixture. Les Bleus needed a 21-point, bonus-point win to claim their first trophy since 2010 but were beaten, 27-23.
A BRIEF BACKGROUND TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
The Six Nations Championship is one of the oldest tournaments in rugby, having been played in one form or another for more than 139 years.
It was first contested between 16 December, 1882 and 3 March, 1883 by England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales under the guise of the Home Nations Championship. France competed in the tournament between 1910-31 and since 1947, while the tournament became the Six Nations in 2000, when Italy joined the fray.
WHO HAS WON THE SIX NATIONS THE MOST TIMES?
Since the Five Nations Championship became the Six Nations in 2000, England have won seven men’s titles — or a third of the tournaments played. Wales and France have won six, while Ireland have won four. Wales and now France have won more men’s Grand Slams (four) than any other nation in that period. England are the most successful team in the overall history of the Championship having enjoyed 29 outright successes and shared the title on a further 10 occasions since that first match in 1882. England have won 13 Grand Slams since the tournament’s inception, one more than Wales.
Source: World Rugby
Frederick Marfo is a sportswriter and social worker well known for his advocacy for equal chances and rights for all athletes, especially those with disabilities.