How good was the Six Nations on Saturday? And how good was Leicester Tigers scrum half Ben Youngs?
England may have let the chance of winning the title slip through their fingers once again but when did they last score 50 points agonist France?
If you didn’t enjoy Saturday’s feast of rugby you don’t love the game because the Northern hemisphere’s top contenders for the World Cup this Autumn laid down a marked and roared out anything you can do we can do too.
It was a record breaking day across the competition - 27 tries, 221 points scored and more than 9.6 million people watching on television.
Wales started the party at lunch time with a record breaking second half against Italy to win 61-20 in Rome to take them to the top of the Six Nations standings despite having lost to England in the opening fixture of the competition.
Ireland, playing at Murryfield knew what they had to do against the Scots and do it they did. Bulldozing flanker Sean O’Brien inspired a 40-10 victory, although perhaps the most important moment of the game was a cover tackle late in the day to dislodge the ball from Stuart Hogg in the act of scoring.
England knew their task - a win by 26 clear points and with the shackles off they went for it in style,
In a game of 90 points and 12 tries Youngs was at his world beating best. He and George Ford combined had England playing at such a remarkable tempo that they tore through the French.
However the problem was France were not just there to make up the numbers, playing for pride and trying to avoid the ignominy of finishing in the bottom half of the table. With that fire stoking their burners meant they were also scoring for fun.
Youngs crossed for the first try of the game in just the third minute, taking the ball close to the line after the England backs had broken down-field from 60 metres out with centre Jonathan Joseph, a star performer all championship, at the fore once again.
Youngs was simply irrepressible all afternoon and his initial searing break took England deep into the French 22 to allow Anthony Watson to scoot over the line.
The scrum half touched down again before setting up Ford following yet another break. It was truly scintillating stuff.
But France also recorded the most attacking metres, 747, and for every score England recorded the visitors responded. England went desperately close, finishing six points short of the margin required, but winning the match 55-35.
However despite quite rightly winning the man of the match award Tigers captain this season looked distraught at the end of the match.
Youngs said: “I don’t think the Six Nations title was lost today for us. I think it was lost last week [in the 25-13 win over Scotland]. We missed too many chances. We should have been way ahead on points difference going into this game. That’s disappointing.”
“I don’t think it [attacking intent] was any different to last week. We were just more clinical today. We ripped Scotland apart but just didn’t take our chances. We made a fair few line breaks last week but didn’t execute. Today shows we’re capable of doing it. France had conceded two tries all tournament. You wouldn’t know that, watching this game.
“Thirty-five points conceded is a bit annoying, because every time we got a foothold we let them back in a bit. If you go in with the intent to play and chuck it around a bit you are going to cough up the ball sometimes, because it becomes unstructured, and the one thing the French love is unstructured. But if we’re a bit smarter in our defence, I think that’s the way we play.
“[The target] was pretty steep. But what a challenge. We said before the game – what a way to win it. We went after it, we started really well, then they took their tries – we’ve got to be better than that – and we found our way back into the game. I remember saying: we’ve got to get 10 points, then we’ve got to get eight, then it was 15 again, then 18, then 10. Even right at the end we’re camped on their line. So really, really gutted.”
However all is not lost - it was another season without lifting the trophy - the fourth consecutive year they have been the runners-up but Youngs said: “Come the end of the year, if we’re lifting the Webb Ellis trophy then no one will remember who won the Six Nations.”
This weekend Youngs, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling and the other Youngs, Tom, will join Italian internationals Leonardo Ghiraldini, who captained the Auzzuri on Saturday, Robert Barbieri and Michele Risso back at Leicester Tigers as they seek to salvage something from a difficult season.
First up are Exeter Chiefs who know just how to win at Welford Road having done it two weeks ago in the LV= Cup semi-final.
There seems to be a fair bit of coming and going between the two clubs of late - Parling will join his former team mate Thomas Waldrom at the Devon club next season.
Coming in the other direction is hooker Greg Bateman, who scored the winning try in Exeter’s 30-22 victory last week.
He will likely be fourth choice for hooker for Leicester next year but with Niall Briggs on his way to Sale it is important to have options in a vital specialist position especially during the extended international break next year with the World Cup taking place.
If rumours are to be believed flanker Julian Salvi may also be on his way to the West Country to link up with Exeter unless on-going contract disputes are solved.
Tigers winger Adam Thompstone has also been linked with a move to Exeter.
A Chief from the other side of the world will be jetting in this summer. New Zealand’s Wiakato Chiefs lock Mike Fitzgerald comes in to bolster the second row options with his sizeable 6ft 5in frame.