Ramos penalty
How will history judge the 2024 Guinness Men’s Six Nations?

A look at the table shows there was no Grand Slam, but a runaway winner in Ireland, who seemed destined to win their second successive title from day one when they romped to an impressive win in France.

But dive a little deeper and the picture becomes a little more colourful, because this was a Championship littered with a series of all-time classic matches, containing glorious tries, horrendous mistakes and tense drama from the first minute until the last.

To suggest it could hang with 2015, the doyen of Guinness Six Nations campaigns, might be a little far-fetched. That drama-filled Super Saturday started with three teams with a genuine chance of being champions and had us guessing at who would end up the winner until the final minute of the final match.

But that year, only three of the 15 matches were decided by five points or less. This year, it was 10.

We were treated to Wales’ near-comeback against Scotland from 27-0 down in front of a frenzied home crowd, took in the tense clash in Lille, which required through-the-fingers viewing when Paolo Garbisi lined up and then missed what would have been a match-winning penalty for Italy in France and revelled in England and Ireland’s breathless Round 4 clash.

Like a kid in sweetshop, picking your favourite is not easy. But at the Groupama Stadium, match 15 was the perfect metaphor for a group of games that have twisted and turned more times than Lewis Hamilton around Monaco.

Ireland might have been parading the trophy and filling it with Guinness by the time France and England began their warm-up routines, but they arguably managed to save the best of this Championship for last.

Against the backdrop of a Lyon crowd revelling in its first Guinness Men’s Six Nations match, they produced a frantic, enthralling and at times error-strewn match, where the lead changed hands six times and both teams overturned two-score deficits.

Nolann Le Garrec scored one of the all-time great Championship tries, there was a passing of the torch in England’s midfield from Manu Tuilagi to Ollie Lawrence and Thomas Ramos had an incredible knack of dropping 50-metre penalties over the crossbar – his last one winning the game 33-31.

It was a key win for France, whose campaign has been up-and-down more times than a pole vaulter, with away wins in Scotland and Wales punctured by that heavy home defeat to Ireland, a nervy draw with Italy and this all-time win.

They missed their talismanic captain Antoine Dupont but - being France - they have of course unearthed another scrum-half gem in Le Garrec.

"We are working hard, we have a team full of character and we want to get back to the top of the rankings. We hope we will be back there,” said Grégory Alldritt, Dupont’s replacement as captain.

"We had a fantastic atmosphere in Marseille and Lille, but we weren't able to give our fans the victory. We are happy to do so here."

Scotland will also go back to the drawing board after another Championship that promised so much but delivered something entirely familiar – their fourth fourth-place finish in five years.

Gregor Townsend’s side again flashed so much promise, especially in the first half of their epic 27-26 win in Wales, and their 30-21 Calcutta Cup success against England. But their late defeat at home to France and defensive ill-discipline in a 31-29 defeat to Italy hurt badly.

“We can always talk about coulda, shoulda, woulda,” flanker Andy Christie said.

“I think the boys probably need some time now to reflect, but I do think this is a group that’s growing.”

For the neutral, Scotland are normally a strong team to follow considering their attacking talent and open style of rugby. But this year, matches involving England were box-office viewing.

Steve Borthwick’s side were behind at half-time in all five matches yet still won three, and all of them were close at the end - with the points margin reading three, two, nine, one and two.

Wins against Italy and Wales perhaps look better on paper than they did to the viewer, but something clearly clicked in the second fallow week as they finished with a pair of bold, ambitious, attacking performances that first saw them dash Ireland’s Grand Slam chances and then almost snatch their first win away to France in eight years.

Then there is the exciting emergence of Italy, who put together their best-ever campaign under first-year head coach Gonzalo Quesada. The Azzurri have boasted about their young talent for half a decade but this was the year they finally blossomed into a team that can mix it with the best in the world.

Wins against Scotland and Wales were thrilling, while they were just three points off England and a missed penalty from beating France.

In Tommaso Menoncello, they have one of the young stars of the game and this Championship – the first after a World Cup – has again unearthed so many talents who will be here for years to come.

For Ireland, Joe McCarthy and Jack Crowley have slotted in seamlessly, France have Le Garrec and the immense winger Louis Bierre-Biarrey and English rugby is refreshed by Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and Tommy Freeman.

Then there is Wales, who endured a tough campaign. A combination of injury and retirements robbed them of so many senior players and, though the pain is real after finishing sixth for the first time in 21 years, Warren Gatland will hope blooding the next generation will pay dividends next year.

"We've had glimpses where we've been really good in this tournament,” he said.

“We need to do that for longer periods."

That leaves us with only Ireland, who averaged a shade under 30 points per game, conceded an average of just 12 and beat France, Italy and Wales with such comfort in their first three games that it appeared they would become the most dominant champions of the Six Nations era.

They were unable to become the first team to win back-to-back Grand Slams since Italy joined the fray, but cemented their place as one of the best teams this old Championship has seen – which, considering it was without their talisman of the past 12 years in Johnny Sexton, is one hell of an achievement.

Yet if the last two weeks have shown Ireland anything, it is that the pack are on their tail.

"I was saying to Andy [Farrell] there that it was a tough week and probably one of the toughest days I've put down nerves-wise," said captain Peter O'Mahony after lifting the trophy.

"I was chatting to a few fellas there, they were in the same boat which was nice, but 100% that has to be up there as one of the most special days of my career, if not the most."

History, then, will surely judge 2024 as one of the most exciting Championships in years. It was up, down, chaotic, unpredictable and a lot of fun.

2025 can’t come soon enough.