A fitting finale!

221 points and 27 tries scored over three matches. Who said the Six Nations was boring? The curtain came down on the 2015 championship in truly breath-taking fashion as Ireland won their second consecutive title under the expert tutelage of coach Joe Schmidt, although not before being made to sweat by the Welsh and English, on arguably the greatest day of rugby in the history of the Six Nations.

Paul O'Connell lifts the Six Nations trophy
Paul O’Connell lifts the Six Nations trophy

Italy 20 – Wales 61

Super Saturday kicked off with Warren Gatland’s Wales looking to rack up a big score in Italy in the hope of snatching the title from Ireland and England. However, all was seemingly not going to plan for the Welsh in the first half as they came up against a spirited Italian team. Wales scored the first try of the match after 18 minutes when a beautifully-weighted kick through by Leigh Halfpenny was picked up by centre Jamie Roberts who cantered over the line to give Wales an 11-6 lead. However Italy soon fought back and were rewarded for their efforts when Giovanbattista Venditti barrelled his way over for a converted try that gave Italy a two-point lead. That lead was soon relinquished however when Dan Biggar kicked a penalty on the stroke of half-time to give Wales a slender 14-13 lead at the break. At this point it seemed highly unlikely Wales would score enough points to put the pressure on their title rivals in the later game, especially with young prop Rob Evans being given a torrid time in the scrums by the experienced Martin Castrogiovanni. With full-back Leigh Halfpenny forced off with concussion at the end of the first half, Wales had it all to do in the second half – which they nearly did. Ironically the absence of Halfpenny seemed to free the Welsh attack up, as wing Liam Williams reverted to his preferred full-back position and duly responded by scoring the first try after the interval, as he ran through the Italian defence following a quick penalty by scrum-half Rhys Webb. Following this, a poorly-executed chip from Italy was retrieved by Williams who launched a counter-attack before passing out wide for George North to scorch his way over the line. Italy’s poor discipline then saw them reduced to 14 men when Andrea Masi was shown a yellow card, with Wales taking advantage as North ran in two more tries, completing his hat-trick with a wonderful score that showcased both his brutal strength as well as his quick feet. With Wales now having a comfortable lead – as well as beginning to get on top in the scrums – Italy aided their opponents, with their indiscipline seeing another player, lock forward Quintin Geldenhuys, sent to the sin-bin. Wales continued to punish the home side as a score by Rhys Webb was followed by impressive tries from Warburton and replacement Scott Williams, with both tries being ran in from distance. At this point with Wales leading 61-13, they had leapt to the top of the Six Nations table and with a now superior points difference to both Ireland and England, had a genuine chance of winning the championship. A late try from Leonardo Sarto reduced their lead and in the process gave Ireland and England renewed hope before their matches.

George North goes over for one of his three tries
George North goes over for one of his three tries

Scotland 10 – Ireland 40

Sean O'Brien stretches to score Ireland's final try
Sean O’Brien stretches to score Ireland’s final try

Following Wales’ emphatic win in Rome, Paul O’Connell and his teammates knew that they needed to win by 21 points to surpass Wales in the table and keep themselves in the title hunt. What followed was arguably their best performance of the championship, as they steam-rolled a bewildered Scottish side to record their biggest win ever at Murrayfield. Captain O’Connell started proceedings by barging his way over the line for an early try that was converted by the mercurial talent of Jonny Sexton. A penalty by Sexton soon after took Ireland into a 10-0 lead before Scotland responded with a Greig Laidlaw penalty. However dismal defending at an Irish line-out saw Sean O’Brien retrieve the ball before running through some weak tackling to increase Ireland’s lead with another try. This however seemed to spark Scotland into life, and following some good play from full-back Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell ran over for a try, that would be celebrated as strongly in London and Rome as in Edinburgh. A penalty by Sexton saw Ireland go in at half-time leading by ten points, knowing there was still much work to do. Ireland responded by increasing their lead early in the second-half as centre Jared Payne added to another Sexton penalty, by running in underneath the posts for a try easily converted by Sexton. With Ireland now just one point shy of overtaking Wales in the table, the tension was increasing and when Scotland had a player sent to the sin-bin, the signs looked ominous for both Scotland and Wales. However, the usually-reliable Sexton had a few lapses of concentration as he missed two shots at goal that would have taken Ireland to the top of the table. Despite this, Ireland’s constant pressure was rewarded with yet another penalty, with Sexton finally sticking the ball between the posts at the third time of asking. A late try by Sean O’Brien at his rampaging best saw Ireland increase their lead once again. A late rally by Scotland nearly resulted in a try for the impressive Hogg but heroic defence by Jamie Heaslip saw the full-back lose control just before grounding, and sealed a result which saw Ireland overtake Wales at the summit, with all eyes turning to Twickenham.

England 55 – France 35

Stuart Lancaster’s side kicked off knowing what they needed to do: win by 26 points and the title would be theirs. What followed was the most bizarre game of rugby ever seen in Six Nations history. 12 tries and 90 points scored in 80 minutes of fantasy rugby, with both teams running in tries at a relentless pace. It all began within 90 seconds as following a poor pass from French fly-half Jules Plisson, England centre Jonathan Joseph picked up the ball before launching a counter-attack that resulted in scrum-half Ben Youngs diving over to give England the perfect start. Their lead did not last long though, as following a successful penalty from Plisson, France took the lead when scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde picked up a loose ball in his own half to run in from distance and score to give France an 8-7 lead. Things got worse for England as French wing Noa Nakaitaci increased the lead with a try converted by Plisson. At this point, England’s title ambitions seemed to be fading away, before a flurry of points saw England regain their lead. A penalty kicked by George Ford reduced France’s lead before tries from Anthony Watson and Youngs again put England back in front, with another penalty by Ford giving Chris Robshaw’s side a 27-15 lead at the break. The action continued early in the second-half as France hit back, as hooker Guirado showed expert hands to put centre Maxime Mermoz over for the try. The frenetic pace of the match continued as, following a darting break, Ben Youngs sent Ford over for a try before wing Jack Nowell got in on the action with a try that increased England’s lead to 16 points after France had kicked a penalty. England’s momentum was then halted as James Haskell went to the sin-bin for a trip on a French player. France made their one-man advantage count as wing Nakaitaci ran from deep before giving a pass to prop Vincent Debaty who crashed over the line to reduce the score to 41-30. England responded once more with a try from Billy Vunipola before incredibly, France responded with another try as a rolling maul saw Benjamin Kayser pushed over to reduce England’s lead once again. With five minutes to go England scored another try as George Ford timed his pass perfectly to send Jack Nowell over for his second try. Leading by 20 points, and with time still left on the clock, England were now within one converted score of winning the championship. With 30 seconds left they drove a line-out into the corner and came within a foot of the French try-line, before France won a debatable penalty that saw England come agonisingly short of the title, as they finished second ahead of Wales on points difference, and ended a glorious match. So Ireland finished above both England and Wales on points difference – with all three teams tied on eight points – on an incredible day of rugby that saw Joe Schmidt win his second consecutive Six Nations by the tightest of margins.

England players stand disconsolate at the final whistle
England players stand disconsolate at the final whistle

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