After 2018 Grand Slam champions Ireland had seen off winless Italy 50-17 on the Championship’s return last weekend, Andy Farrell’s men headed into the final round of games with their destiny in their own hands.
While waiting for their decisive fixture against France in Paris, Ireland saw Scotland stun defending Grand Slam winners Wales 14-10 in Llanelli, before Eddie Jones’ England turned up the heat on the Emerald Isle with a bonus-point 34-5 triumph in Rome.
And ultimately the trophy was handed to the Red Rose for the first time since 2017, with the men in green falling 35-27 to an impressive Les Bleus side, whose victory saw them miss out on a first title for a decade on points difference.
Among the ranging fortunes for the plethora of Lions stars on show throughout the three tantalising showdowns, there were records broken, milestone moments, and individual pieces of brilliance to savour.
AWJ becomes most-capped international
Wales’ hopes of ending a turgid campaign came unstuck as they were edged by Gregor Townsend’s Scotland at Parc y Scarlets – the visitors’ first win on Welsh soil since 2002.
Finn Russell – who featured as part of the squad on the Lions’ 2017 Tour to New Zealand – kicked the visitors in front on his return at fly-half, but Wales prop Rhys Carre punished a Scotland mistake at their own lineout to help his team to a slender 7-6 lead at half-time.
The hosts added three more points to their tally after the break thanks to the boot of four-time Lions capped Leigh Halfpenny, but a try from replacement hooker Stuart McInally and a last-gasp penalty from skipper Stuart Hogg – a veteran of two Lions Tours – handed Scotland the spoils.
Despite enduring their fourth successive defeat of the Championship there was some cause for celebration in the Welsh camp as captain Alun Wyn Jones played his 140th game for Wales, together with his nine Lions appearances making him rugby’s most-capped international ahead of Richie McCaw.
Youngs at the double on century appearance
England knew they could pile all the pressure on Ireland’s shoulders with a bonus-point win in Italy, and Ben Youngs got the away side off to a flying start with a fifth-minute score on his 100th appearance for his country.
The 2013 Lion made it a night to remember with England’s second try moments into the second half, after Jake Polledri had got Italy on the board in the 18th minute when Carlo Canna reacted quickest to Kyle Sinckler’s handling error and fed the Gloucester No.8 to dot down.
Jamie George – a 2017 Tour star and himself making his 50th England appearance – powered over for England’s third after Lions teammate Maro Itoje claimed the ball in a lineout to spearhead the fruitful maul.
Tom Curry notched the all-important bonus-point score after exposing a mistake in the Italian defensive line and skipping down the left flank, before Henry Slade crossed to up England’s points difference late on.
Ireland lose but Healy makes history
Going into the Stade de France requiring a seven-point win to clinch the title, Ireland were dealt an early blow when France’s Antoine Dupont crossed in the seventh minute, although full-back Anthony Bouthier was soon sent to the sin-bin for deliberately knocking Johnny Sexton’s grubber kick into touch.
The away side duly responded and Cian Healy – a member of the 2013 Tour squad – bulldozed over on his 100th Test appearance, before captain and six-time Test Lion Sexton kicked Ireland in front.
But France were soon awarded a penalty try when Caelan Doris tackled Francois Cros off the ball, and they stretched their lead at the start of the second half through a Romain Ntamack try.
Robbie Henshaw and Jacob Stockdale both went over in between Virimi Vakatawa’s bonus-point score for the hosts, but it wasn’t enough to topple Fabien Galthié’s charges who leapfrogged Ireland in the overall standings to finish second.