France waited 12 long years to get back on top of the Guinness Six Nations but after successive near-misses, they did it in style.
Fabien Galthié’s men clinched a Grand Slam against England in an electric atmosphere in Paris as they and Ireland went toe-to-toe in the battle for the title.
Elsewhere, Italy produced perhaps the most dramatic moment of the entire Championship which had its fair share.
This is how a magical edition of the Championship unfolded.
ROUND 1 – SCOTLAND KEEP THE CALCUTTA CUP
Scotland have enjoyed recent meetings with England and that run continued in 2022 in a Calcutta Cup classic in Edinburgh.
For much of the 80 minutes, it looked as if England would come away with the win, despite Ben White’s brilliant score from a quick lineout.
Marcus Smith scored all of England’s points and at 17-10, they looked in control. But two cross-kicks from Finn Russell pulled the visiting defence one way then the other, leaving Luke Cowan-Dickie defending on the wing and when he took out Darcy Graham, he was sent to the bin and Scotland drew level.
Russell added another penalty and Scotland had pulled off a great escape, winning 20-17.
Earlier in the day, Mack Hansen made a dream start to his Test career, helping set up an Ireland try after just three minutes for Bundee Aki. Wales defended stoutly but an Andrew Conway double and Garry Ringrose score meant it was maximum points for Ireland in a 29-7 win.
On the Sunday, Italy led in the first half in Paris thanks to teenage debutant Tommaso Menoncello’s try but in the end Gabin Villière’s hat-trick fired France to a 37-10 victory.
ROUND 2 – FRANCE EDGE TITANIC TUSSLE
Coming into the Championship, Ireland and France looked like title contenders, having both beaten the All Blacks during the previous Autumn Nations Series.
After convincing wins in Round 1, that was still very much the case, so their meeting in Paris was hotly-anticipated.
France needed barely a minute to hit the front, Antoine Dupont on the end of Romain Ntamack’s blind pass, and despite Hansen’s stunning score from a restart, the hosts led 19-7 at half-time.
That quickly became 22-7 before Josh van der Flier and Jamison Gibson-Park went over in a five-minute burst to make it a one-score game. France again responded, Cyril Baille getting France’s second try and the boot of Melvyn Jaminet saw them to a 30-24 success.
Elsewhere Scottish hopes of a second win were dashed in a 20-17 loss in Cardiff, Dan Biggar’s drop goal splitting the teams.
And Jamie George grabbed two tries as England eased to a 33-0 win over Italy in Rome to get their campaign back on track.
ROUND 3 – LES BLEUS SOLVE SCOTTISH CONUNDRUM
Under Galthié, France had beaten every team in the Guinness Six Nations except Scotland, who ended their title hopes in both 2020 and 2021. While they did win in Edinburgh in the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup, they headed to BT Murrayfield to take on their bogey team.
Dupont got them going early with a searing counter-attack for a Paul Willemse try, before Yoram Moefana’s first Test try. And yet Scotland hit back through Rory Darge and could have led if Chris Harris had found Stuart Hogg on another dangerous attack.
It proved the turning point, Gaël Fickou crossing before half-time and Damian Penaud getting two after the break in a 36-17 win.
Later that day, England survived a ferocious Welsh comeback to take a 23-19 win at Twickenham in a game where they led 17-0 at one point.
Then on Sunday, Ireland powered past 13-man Italy in a 57-6 win with two tries apiece for James Lowe and debutant Michael Lowry.
ROUND 4 – IRELAND EVENTUALLY CONQUER TWICKENHAM
The Round 4 action began on Friday night as France were pushed to the limit by Wales. Anthony Jelonch’s early try looked like it was setting Les Bleus up for a comfortable night, but they spent much of the game defending in a match that Shaun Edwards will have relished.
With France’s 13-9 win, Ireland needed to beat England at Twickenham to stay in title contention, and their job was made easier when Charlie Ewels was sent off after just 82 seconds.
Still, England refused to bow down and thanks to a dominant scrum, managed to hang in the game, with the scores level at 15-15 after an hour.
The pressure told in the end though, with Jack Conan and then Finlay Bealham getting over for Ireland as they took all five points from a 32-15 win.
Scotland bounced back from successive defeats with a 33-22 win in Rome, including a length-of-the-field counter-attack finished off by Chris Harris, one of two first-half scores for the centre.
Italy debutant Ange Capuozzo crossed twice late on, a sign of what was to come a week later.
ROUND 5 – DUPONT DELIVERS AFTER CAPUOZZO CRESCENDO
Super Saturday started with some Italian magic and ended with French elation on a remarkable day of rugby.
On the day that Alun Wyn Jones won his 150th Test cap, Wales looked to be in control with three tries, Josh Adams with the third 12 minutes from time.
However, Paolo Garbisi kept Italy in touch, and trailing by six, with a minute to go, Capuozzo received the ball in his own territory. What followed will go down in Championship history. The full-back glided one way before darting through a gap, then beat another man with something that was more swerve than sidestep. He could have finished the job himself, but instead fed Edoardo Padovani inside to make the all-important conversion simpler. Garbisi obliged with the extras and the whole of Italy celebrated a 22-21 victory, a first in the Championship in seven years.
Italy score a sensational try in the final moments to secure their first win since 2015 🙌#GuinnessSixNations #WALvITA pic.twitter.com/lQizHDAypQ
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 19, 2022
Ireland were next up, needing to beat Scotland to stay in the Championship hunt. They did so, with Conor Murray’s 78th-minute try sealing the bonus point in a 26-5 win.
That meant only victory would do for France and on a nervy night, they saw a couple of chances go begging in the first half, although Fickou and François Cros got over to put them in a good position at 18-6.
Freddie Steward’s try early in the second half got England right back into it, but as is so often the case with this France team, Dupont stepped up in the big moment. Taking an offload from Grégory Alldritt, his former teammate at youth level, the skipper shrugged off two would-be tacklers and raced home for the try that sealed a 25-13 win and a first French title and Slam in 12 years.
It had to be him! 🙌
Antoine Dupont goes over to move France clear of England again #GuinnessSixNations | #FRAvENG pic.twitter.com/PZmRsNlAnj
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 19, 2022
The scrum-half was recognised for his performances throughout the campaign by being named Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship for the second time in three years.
To underline their performance, France backed up their slam by completing an unbeaten calendar year, setting up a tantalising 2023 Guinness Six Nations.