Ireland's rise to their second Six Nations title—their first in five years—showed dominance, desire and destruction on their way to the top.
Brian O'Driscoll made his final appearance for his country in the 22-20 victory over France to seal the tournament win and make cap number 141 special in many ways.
Unbeaten at the Aviva Stadium and with just one loss to England, the tournament was as kind to Ireland, as the Irish were in bringing an abundance of entertainment.
|Italy||11-52||England||Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy|
|Wales||51-3||Scotland||Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales|
|France||20-22||Ireland||Stade de France, Paris, France|
O'Driscoll hailed his send-off and, speaking after the match, told of how he didn't want to take off the green shirt, according to BBC Sport's Ben Dirs:
Because it's the last time, I'm dragging the backside out of it. It would be a bit weird if I started wearing it at home. It's a lovely way to finish.
I've had so much fun over the past 15 years. And not many get to finish their career on their own terms and certainly not with this kind of emotional high.
I got a frog in my throat at the final whistle but I'm sure there will be a few tears later on with multiple beers on board.
Meanwhile, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt stated that finding O'Driscoll's successor would be a big job:
His work ethic is massive. He works so hard to maximise his special attributes. We can't suddenly fill his shoes. We'll just have to pick somebody with slightly smaller feet and hopefully he'll grow into them.
ESPN's Tommy Smyth tweeted of not just a big tournament for the Irish, but also a case of rewriting history in Rome:
Ireland win in France for the first time in 42 years. Brian O Driscoll goes out in a blaze of glory as Ireland win the 6 nations Rugby.— Tommy Smyth (@TommySmythESPN) March 15, 2014
A big tournament with even bigger celebrations in store throughout Dublin, let's take a look back at Ireland's road to the final, with four wins and plenty of memories along the way.
Round 1 – Ireland 28-6 Scotland
Schmidt's men made their mark on the tournament during the opening fixture with Scotland, as Jonathan Sexton staked his claim for Ireland's kicking responsibilities.
The Racing Metro man hit two conversions and three penalties to help his side on their way to 28-6 jubilation in Dublin.
Rob Kearney and Andrew Trimble also bagged their first tries of the competition—along with Jamie Heaslip—as the hosts romped to 18-point victory over Scott Johnson's side, who could only score from two penalties from Greig Laidlaw.
Round 2 – Ireland 26-3 Wales
Ireland continued their domination against Wales and, with a 13-0 half-time lead, it looked to be one-way traffic in Dublin's second fixture.
Sexton had hit three kicks before half-time as Chris Henry touched down for the hosts, with Leigh Halfpenny kicking in response during the second period.
However, the Welshman's efforts were in vain, as Sexton hit another two set-pieces, with Paddy Jackson stepping from the replacements' bench to bag a try—and dispatch for the resulting extras.
Round 3 – England 13-10 Ireland
Round 3 brought disappointment to Schmidt's side, despite a brave fight back against England at Twickenham.
The hosts had recorded a 3-0 advantage at the interval after Farrell kicked between the sticks from a 24th-minute penalty.
An excellent start to the second half resulted in Kearney's try—extras gleaned by Sexton—and then the Metro man stepping up to slot home a penalty of his own.
However, hopes of an away victory were dashed after Danny Care's try led to Farrell's fine finish, as luck of the Irish wasn't telling in the final 25 minutes, leading to 13-10 defeat in London.
Round 4 – Ireland 46-7 Italy
Back in Dublin, Ireland had to defeat Italy, who had yet to win a match in the Six Nations so far, to keep their foot on the gas as they harboured dreams of their second title.
Strong favourites, the hosts sailed into the lead after a try-and-conversion combo from Sexton, before Leonardo Sarto's try—converted by Luciano Orquera on 25 minutes—drew the game level.
The lead didn't last long though as Sexton twice struck between the sticks either side of Trimble's try, before the second-half mauling began.
Five tries, courtesy of Cian Healy, Sexton, Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath, with two kicks from Jackson, helped the side to record 46-7.
Then came the decider.
Round 5 – France 20-22 Ireland
News of England's 52-11 win had filtered through social-networking sites, news outlets and across the pubs of Ireland as Schmidt's men—travelling to face France—knew that a win at the Stade de France would signal their title win.
Maxime Machenaud's first-minute penalty certainly looked to tear up the script and, with under 15 minutes played, Machenaud had made it two for him.
Ireland's endeavour told during the early exchanges and finally came to fruition after 20 minutes with two tries in quick succession from Sexton and Trimble, Sexton fluffing his lines from the first conversion but showing character to bag the second.
But France weren't ready to give up their hopes of derailing Ireland's title dreams, with Brice Dulin's try enabling Machenaud to make it three from three to make it 13-12 to the hosts.
Sexton capped another try and nearly missed his second conversion of the day, but for the left-hand upright to save the day and restore Ireland's lead—now sat at 19-13.
The visitors started the second half just as brightly as the first to bag another penalty, before Dimitri Szarzewski reduced the deficit for France following Machenaud's latest kick-king moment.
Just two points from an upset, and with Sexton stretched off the field following a nasty collision with Mathieu Bastareaud, the hosts were dreaming of victory in Paris.
They even had scored a try to put Ireland behind. However, after lengthy deliberation and replay consultation, the move was discredited for a forward pass, allowing Ireland to clinch the win and the title.
Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given tweeted of his delight at seeing his nation seal the Six Nations, with signs of just a few nerves along the way:
Come on Ireland, no nails left. Congrats to all the Irish rugby team. 6 nation champions. @BrianODriscoll what a legend.— Shay Given (@No1shaygiven) March 15, 2014
A momentous occasion for all of Ireland to enjoy, but more importantly, a solid platform from which to build.
The side will look to defend their title in next year's Six Nations, before England host the World Cup in October.
Victory this time around can act as an excellent springboard for Schmidt's men to further grow their side, and although O'Driscoll will no longer be on the pitch, his legacy will live on long into the ages.