As French winger Benjamin Fall was bundled into touch, Nigel Owens blew his whistle and concluded the greatest opening weekend in Six Nations history.
Before the drama in Rome came the topsy-turvy opening game of the tournament. Ireland and Wales raced out of the blocks during a frantic opening few minutes, which saw the ball remain in hand without either team achieving any great penetration.
Returning to international rugby Brian O’Driscoll was inevitably influential throughout, bagging a short-range try early in the second half, and deservedly picking up the man of the match award.
O’Driscoll also created the opening score, an arching run and a superbly timed pass exposed Alex Cuthbert in defence and allowed Simon Zebo to race over untouched.
The Welsh were largely architects of their own downfall; lineouts were lost, ball was dropped and Jonathan Davies twice passed the ball directly into touch. Dan Biggar’s kick, charged down by Rory Best, lead to Cian Healy’s try as he barged over from a metre out. Zebo’s skill in the build up to the try was demonstrative of the difference in quality between the two sides.
It was only when Ireland’s lead reached 0-20 that Wales awoke as an attacking force. A few minutes of good work saw Leigh Halfpenny land a penalty. Ill disciple saw this score canceled out as Sexton nudged over on the stroke of half-time.
3-30 down after O’Driscoll’s score, the game looked to be over for Wales. However, bolstered by the excellent Justin Tipuric, they roared back with tries from Cuthbert, Halfpenny and Craig Mitchell as play became stretched and scrappy.
The men in red benefited from Irish lack of discipline as first Best, who was otherwise excellent, and then Conor Murray were sin binned. However, the comeback was not to be as Wales finished as they started, attacking impotently and conceding possession.
Saturday’s drama was repeated a day later at Italy’s new home of rugby, the Stadio Olimpico.
Although some of the seats in this huge stadium went unfilled, after Italy’s stirring win, they will surely be occupied when Wales visit in round three.
The tone was set as the nonchalant Frederic Michalak sent the kick-off straight into touch. The Italians settled better to their task. After a good kick return Luciano Orquera spotted forwards in front of him and broke through, drawing the last man before passing to captain Sergio Parisse who ran in the try.
France bounced back as Louis Picamoles went over for an unconverted try. Intelligent play from the Italians lead to a drop-goal and penalty being kicked, as they made the most of the fast and loose nature of the game.
Again Les Bleus responded as the backs broke free for Fall to run in an easy try. A Michalak penalty after half-time gave France a 13-18 lead, suggesting they had finally wrestled control of the match.
This was not the case, as Italy continued to play with greater continuity and quicker ball than their counterparts. Martin Castrogiovanni crashed over for a decisive try after a great offload from Orquera. Kris Burton’s drop-goal then demonstrated a maturity that has often been lacking from the Azzuris’ play, stretching their lead to more than three points and forcing France to play for a try.
Silly penalties allowed the toothless French crucial territory in the final 10 minutes, but despite being reduced to 14 men the Italians were able to hold on for a famous win.