In a Championship renowned for final flourishes – the 2015 edition takes some beating.
Coming into the final round of games, there were four teams all still in with a mathematical chance of lifting the trophy.
And while France had the longest of shots, Ireland, Wales and England were all well in contention in a Super Saturday that defied belief.
27 tries were scored across the three games as momentum swung back and forth and it came down to the final play of the final game in a titanic Twickenham tussle before Ireland could finally call themselves champions.
90 points, 12 tries, and a record points tally against the old enemy France, this was a ‘Le Crunch’ with a difference.
And George Ford – who finished with a personal haul of 25 points – was the key protagonist.
SETTING THE SCENE
England – runners-up every year since 2012 under Stuart Lancaster in this famous old Championship – were hoping to go one better this time around.
Defeat in Dublin to Ireland in round three had ended their hopes of a Grand Slam but the men in green had been beaten by Wales in round four to open up the table.
Warren Gatland’s side had come storming back after losing to England on the opening Friday night in Cardiff.
And it was points difference that was in all likelihood going to be decisive in the end.
It appeared however, that Wales were fluffing their lines in Rome in Saturday’s opening clash. Leading as they did just 14-13 at the break.
But a second-half salvo of 47 points – including a George North hat-trick – turned the tables and put Wales top of the standings with a 61-20 success.
Then attention turned to Edinburgh as Joe Schmidt’s Ireland side looked to secure victory over Scotland and back-to-back outright titles for the first time since 1949.
England meanwhile were beginning their warm-ups at Twickenham and trying not to get distracted, as George Ford remembers:
“And literally after the warm up as we were about to go out on the pitch we knew we had to win by 26 points.
“We got told that as we were going out. The game isn’t on in the changing room, but Stuart got the leadership group together and told us.
“It didn’t really change our mindset or the way we were going to play the game, because we always go out there to attack and score points.
“But we had a figure in our head of what the gap was and maybe that made a difference because it was an unbelievable game wasn’t it?”
HOW THE ACTION UNFOLDED
After Ireland’s 40-10 victory at BT Murrayfield, 26 was the magic number for England if they were to claim victory.
And defence seemed optional in a dramatic 80 minutes that had to be seen to be believed.
Ben Youngs crossed twice in the first half, as did Anthony Watson while up the other end Sebastian Tillous-Borde and Noa Nakaitaci kept the French fans interested.
“The match started at 100 miles an hour, we scored a couple of tries but were behind in the first half as France kept coming at us,” remembered Ford.
“We played some really good stuff with ball in hand.”
The second half continued at breakneck pace, Jack Nowell bagging a double while Billy Vunipola and Ford himself also crossed.
But up the other end, French tries could not be staunched, Vincent Debaty somehow appearing on Nakaitaci’s shoulder for the try of the day while Maxime Mermoz and Benjamin Kayser also crossed.
With time ticking down, England were in with a chance, 20 points ahead at 55-35 and knowing that another converted score could hand them the title.
“It was a mad back and forth game, and before you know it we were seven points away from actually doing it in the last couple of minutes,” added Ford.
“Those last plays of the game were so dramatic – it was one of those games. We wanted to go out to win the tournament and we threw everything at it in terms of attacking rugby.
England’s chance looked to have gone in the final moments when France turned over a driving maul on their own line, but another twist was in the tail.
Yoann Huget bizarrely opted to tap and go from what should have been a match-ending penalty and England had another sniff. But the turnover would not come and eventually Rory Kockott put an end to proceedings.
“You don’t see 55 points many time in a Test match do you? That was a huge positive but to let 35 in was a big disappointment and it was a bit deflating in the end,” admitted Ford.
“Everyone was on the edge of their seat and it was so close in the end. But that night we were pretty disappointed. We wanted to win it all.”
France had only conceded two tries in their first four games of that Championship and you needed to go back to before World War I for the last time they slumped to such a comprehensive defeat.
But it had always looked a mission improbable if not impossible for England and Lancaster gathered his devastated players around on the pitch post match to commiserate.
Ford added: “We won four out of five for all four years of Stuart’s reign which is actually a very good record.
“But we always managed to lose one game, that year it had been in Dublin against Ireland.
“Really the message is, like it is now, that to win a Six Nations title you have got to go out and win every game.
“If you win four you leave a chance for another team to win it so we weren’t quite good enough.”
England: Brown, Watson, Joseph, Burrell, Nowell, Ford, B. Youngs, Marler, Hartley, Cole, Parling, Lawes, Haskell, Robshaw, B. Vunipola.
Replacements: Cipriani for Watson (63), Twelvetrees for Burrell (73), Wigglesworth for B. Youngs (73), M. Vunipola for Marler (63), T. Youngs for Hartley (53), Brookes for Cole (63), Easter for Parling (68), Wood for Haskell (68).
Sin Bin: Haskell (57).
France: Spedding, Huget, Fickou, Mermoz, Nakaitaci, Plisson, Tillous-Borde, Debaty, Guirado, Mas, Flanquart, Maestri, Dusautoir, Le Roux, Goujon.
Replacements: Bastareaud for Mermoz (73), Tales for Plisson (73), Kockott for Tillous-Borde (48), Kayser for Guirado (47), Atonio for Mas (47), Chouly for Goujon (63).
Not Used: Slimani, Taofifenua.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).