Plaudits started flowing for Brian O’Driscoll, minutes after he played his last match – the world’s most capped international finishing as a champion.
Ireland held on to beat France 22-20 to win the Six Nations title and give a fairytale ending to the career of O’Driscoll in a gripping climax to the 2014 Championship.
O’Driscoll, who finished his career with 142 Test caps (134 for Ireland and eight for the British and Irish Lions), was congratulated by England coach Stuart Lancaster in the immediate aftermath of Ireland’s dramatic win in Paris.
Joe Schmidt’s side finish level on eight points with England, who defeated Italy 52-11 earlier in the day, but Ireland prevailed thanks to a superior points difference.
In a compelling match at the Stade de France, France held a 13-12 half-time lead thanks to two Maxime Machenaud penalties and a conversion of Brice Dulin’s try, while Ireland scored two tries through Jonny Sexton and Andrew Trimble, the former missing two of his three kicks.
Sexton converted his second try early in the second period, followed by a penalty, but France fired back through a Dimitri Szarzewski try after some sustained pressure, Machenaud converting to make it 22-20.
French replacement Jean-Marc Doussain missed a penalty attempt with 10 minutes to play and the Irish defence held out, despite a late disallowed Damien Chouly try, to secure only their second win over France in Paris in 42 years and hand O’Driscoll the perfect send-off.
In Rome, Mike Brown scored two tries while Owen Farrell, Jack Nowell, Mako Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi and Chris Robshaw also crossed over for England, with Leonardo Sarto securing Italy’s only try of a one-sided encounter.
In the day’s other match, Wales inflicted a record 51-3 defeat on Scotland in Cardiff.
Jamie Roberts and George North both scored two tries for Wales, while Scotland were forced to play most of the match with 14 men after Stuart Hogg was sent off for a late tackle on Dan Biggar.
“Credit to Ireland,” England coach Stuart Lancaster said. “They are deserved winners and it’s a fitting finale and send-off for Brian O’Driscoll, a legend of the game whom everyone in this squad respects massively. “We always knew this was going to be one of the tightest Dix Nations tournaments and go down to the wire.”
Lancaster said he was “proud” of what England have achieved over the tournament, both in how his young group of players developed and also their intent to play attacking rugby.
“We have fielded 28 players, but it’s been a whole squad effort from players, coaches and management,” the England coach said. “I’d also include the supporters in that, both at Twickenham and away, because they have been brilliant and bought into what we are trying to achieve. “With other guys coming back from injury we are massively excited about the New Zealand tour which will give us further options to grow as a team.”