What a tournament the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Championship was: surely the most closely-contested in recent memory, with none of the teams going unbeaten or losing all their games.

Champions | Wales rejoice after comprehensively defeating England to retain the Six Nations trophy. (Image | Sky Sports)

Champions | Wales rejoice after comprehensively defeating England to retain the Six Nations trophy. (Image | Sky Sports)

The matches themselves were also tight, with this tournament seeing the fewest tries in Six Nations history by a long way.

Going into the final round, Wales and England were the only two sides in contention for the title, while France, Italy and Ireland were fighting to avoid the shame and embarrassment of the wooden spoon.

Italy 22 Ireland 15

Italy finished the tournament as they started it, with a spirited win at home against heavily-favoured opponents.

Strong kicking by Paddy Jackson was not enough to counter the hard work from the Italians in attack, with Luciano Orquera and Gonzalo Garcia matching his penalty kicks and a second-half try from Edoardo Gori making the difference.

Two Six Nations legends bowed out in this game, with Azzurri prop Andrea Lo Cicero definitely leaving the international stage for the last time to a standing ovation on the hour mark as the most-capped player in Italian history.

Talismanic Irish centre Brian O’Driscoll has almost certainly played his final game for the men in green, although a Lions tour spot in the summer is not out of the question.

For the hosts, the tournament has been largely positive. Having secured two victories for only the second time since joining in 2000, Italy will most certainly be happy with a fourth-place finish.

The atmosphere inside the Stadio Olimpico in Rome was truly fearsome, proving that the Italians fully deserve their place among the elite of the sport.

Furthermore, the Italy squad was stronger this time around than ever before. Sergio Parisse is one of the greats of the game, and it is telling that the sole defeat suffered by the Azzurri came when he was out injured.

Good Luc charm | Fly half Luciano Orquera, seen kicking a penalty against Ireland, had a superb tournament. (Image | Sky Sports)

Good Luc charm | Fly half Luciano Orquera, seen kicking a penalty against Ireland, had a superb tournament. (Image | Sky Sports)

Alongside him in the back row, Simone Favaro and Alessandro Zanni were consistently involved at breakdowns and in defence. Gori and Tobias Botes are both solid options at scrum half, while Orquera has proved a hit at fly half.

Orquera, 31, of Parma-based Zebre, was mercurial in attack and solid in front of goal, and exactly what the Italians had been looking for since the retirement of Diego Dominguez in 2003.

Ireland, on the other hand, will not be satisfied with coming in second-last. Having begun so positively against Wales, they slumped to three defeats and a draw in their remaining matches, suffering primarily from the huge number of injuries sustained within the squad.

Positives signs are evident, despite the golden generation of the past decade having mostly departed. Jackson, 21, should have a few years of international rugby ahead of him, and will only improve sandwiched between Ruan Pienaar and Luke Marshall for Ulster.

Elsewhere in the backs, the prospects are mouthwatering: any combination of Rob Kearney, Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy, Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald and Fergus McFadden could work for the back three plus outside centre.

Ultimately, the Irish should look on the next couple of years as a rebuilding period and target the 2015 World Cup once their young side is more experienced.

Wales 30 England 3

The tournament decider took place in Cardiff, with England looking for their first Grand Slam since 2003 and Wales aiming for back-to-back titles for the first time in more than 30 years.

With the hosts needing to win by more than seven points to secure the championship, it seemed beforehand that they had too much work to do, but instead the Welsh comprehensively crushed their opponents to claim Six Nations glory.

Three Leigh Halfpenny penalties compared to one from Owen Farrell to ensure that the visitors were still in touch at half time, but Wales pushed on after the break, with two Alex Cuthbert tries and the kicking of Dan Biggar sealing their biggest-ever defeat of England.

Cuthbert’s second was the best try of the tournament: Sam Warburton picked up from a ruck deep inside his own half and charged downfield, Justin Tipuric then gathering and slicing through the defence to send his team mate over in the corner unopposed.

Just try and stop him | Wales winger Alex Cuthbert scores of one two tries to rapturous applause at the Millennium Stadium. (Image | Sporting Life)

Just try and stop him | Wales winger Alex Cuthbert scores of one two tries to rapturous applause at the Millennium Stadium. (Image | Sporting Life)

The victory for the home side was the culmination of the most unlikely of comebacks after their dire form prior to the tournament.

That they did not concede a single try after the first half of the opening game is testament to the effort put in throughout the Welsh squad, and in the end they were by far the better team on the day.

Leigh Halfpenny was the standout player throughout the entire tournament, while George North and Cuthbert provided serious pace alongside him.

Biggar ought to hold onto the fly half position after proving himself a dependable option, while Warburton and Tipuric were devastatingly effective in the back row, both in attack and defence.

Furthermore, the Wales bench is also looking increasingly solid, from bludgeoning prop Paul James to the versatile James Hook.

England will have been hit hard by the loss, having gone into the match with a real chance of a Grand Slam and then been prevented from playing by the hosts.

Inexperience was certainly a factor, with ten of the starting 15 never having played at the Millennium Stadium before. However, this result does not detract from a remarkable campaign for Stuart Lancaster’s young side.

Farrell is a brilliant prospect, having earned himself comparisons to Jonny Wilkinson with his kicking accuracy and defensive commitment. He may have let pressure get to him on a couple of occasions, but his temperament will improve with maturity.

Chris Robshaw captained the side well after his decision-making abilities were criticised in the autumn, while Manu Tuilagi was as imposing as ever at outside centre.

Meanwhile, Courtney Lawes and Mako Vunipola provided strength and athleticism from the bench. After they have played together for another year or two, this team will be hard to beat.

France 23 Scotland 16

Following the fireworks in Cardiff, this match seemed like something of an afterthought in the big picture, but the French were targeting it as the chance to avoid last place after Ireland fell to defeat.

Trailing the Scots 6-0 at the break, they countered in the second half with tries from Wesley Fofana and Maxime Médard, and at one point were three points away from achieving the improbable and leapfrogging the Irish on points difference.

However, a late try from Tim Visser shattered their hopes and ensured that Les Bleus finished last in the tournament for the first time since 1999.

It was a case of too little, too late for the French, as they finally began playing the style of rugby that they are known for with just 40 minutes of the championship remaining.

Even then, the side as a whole did not appear to be happy with their performance, and propping up the table having been labelled as potential winners does not bode well for the players with Philippe Saint-André as head coach.

Despite the poor team effort, there were positive individual performances. Louis Picamoles was relentless in the back row, Fofana made the best of his erratic service from Frédéric Michalak and Yoann Huget was audacious from fullback.

Saint-André now faces a dilemma in terms of selection. He can maintain the current squad, hoping to build on their improved form, or start again with new talent such as young centre Gaël Fickou and Castres flanker Antonie Claassen. Both have showed major promise at club level but have not really been allowed extended time in the international side.

Revelation | Greig Laidlaw kicks the first few points for Scotland against last-placed France in the tournament closer. (Image | Daily Record)

Revelation | Greig Laidlaw kicks the first few points for Scotland against last-placed France in the tournament closer. (Image | Daily Record)

Scotland were the surprise package of the tournament, having looked poor beforehand but finished third.

Their final placing was admittedly fortuitous, given their record of two wins and three defeats, but the victories over Italy and Ireland proved that the team can play with both flair and grit when the occasion calls for it.

Interim head coach Scott Johnson has done a fantastic job in motivating what looked like a lost cause after the autumn internationals.

Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser and Sean Maitland are the most exciting back three combination Scotland have had in a long time, and looked threatening throughout the competition.

Greig Laidlaw has also been a revelation at scrum half, as well as a dependable goal kicker, while forwards such as Kelly Brown, Jim Hamilton, Richie Gray and Johnnie Beattie are slowly cementing their places as go-to players in the side.

Ultimately though, the credit remains with Johnson, and he deserves to keep his position for the time being.

Victory for Wales made it 26 wins since the Home Nations Championship was founded in 1883, meaning that they now equal England in total tournament wins.

The professional composure maintained by the Welsh players following their humiliation in the opening round was the highlight of the Six Nations, and ultimately their title was thoroughly deserved.

6 Nations table

  1. Wales | Won: 4 Lost: 1 For: 122 Against: 66 Points: 8
  2. England | Won: 4 Lost: 1 For: 94 Against: 78 Points: 8
  3. Scotland | Won: 2 Lost: 3 For: 98 Against: 107 Points: 4
  4. Italy | Won: 2 Lost: 3 For: 75 Against: 111 Points: 4
  5. Ireland | Won: 1 Drawn: 1 Lost: 3 For: 72 Against: 81 Points: 3
  6. France | Won: 1 Drawn: 1 Lost: 3 For: 73 Against: 91 Points: 3

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