2013 Six Nations review
The 2013 RBS 6 Nations generated several surprises, but memories of the Championship will forever be dominated by the dramatic climax to the title race at the Millennium Stadium.
England arrived in Cardiff on March 16 seeking their first Grand Slam in a decade and only needed to lose the game by six points or less to claim their inaugural piece of silverware under head coach Stuart Lancaster.
Instead, they were obliterated 30-3 as Wales retained their crown in record-breaking fashion with two-try wing Alex Cuthbert leading the rout.
The manner of the defeat - England were comprehensively outmuscled, out-fought and out-played - led to immediate revisions of the team's promise. It was even suggested Lancaster faced a mammoth rebuilding job.
Wales - armed with player of the tournament Leigh Halfpenny - celebrated their fourth Six Nations title in nine years with the sweetest of victories confirming them as Europe's irresistible force.
While the champions went on to dominate British and Irish Lions selection for the tour to Australia, England were forced to endure plenty of biting criticism.
"I have never seen a full-strength England side dismantled like this in the 25 years since I made my own international debut. That was a good old-fashioned drubbing," former Red Rose captain Will Carling said.
"And it was harder to take because no one could possibly have seen it coming, not a defeat of such massive proportions.
"It was painful to watch, and England have been taught some sobering lessons."
The chances of Wales celebrating their 26th title appeared remote when they were beaten 30-22 by Ireland in Cardiff, an eighth successive defeat.
However, having fought back from being down 23-3 at half-time there was evidence of improvement which snowballed throughout the Championship and reached a peak against England.
There was clear evidence of English decline before the capitulation at the Millennium Stadium, most notably six days earlier when they struggled past Italy 18-11 at Twickenham.
If Lancaster was searching for crumbs of comfort elsewhere in the tournament, he could at least console himself with Ireland's dire form and a feeble performance from France that demonstrated 2013 was a troubled year for other Six Nations heavyweights.
Declan Kidney was deemed responsible as injury-hit Ireland stumbled through February and March and was removed as head coach, his side's first Championship defeat by Italy in Rome proving the final straw for his paymasters at Lansdowne Road.
The opening-day victory over Wales had promised so much more than a fifth-place finish. Perhaps most painfully of all, a rare victory over ailing France was beyond them in a 13-13 draw in Dublin.
The less said of the French the better as remarkably they finished with the wooden spoon, sparking debate over whether the influx of overseas players into the Top 14 was harming national interest.
A 23-16 victory over Scotland rescued them from complete humiliation on the final day, but it was not enough to prevent the Scots, under interim coach Scott Johnson, from finishing a creditable third.
Italy equalled their best performance by taking fourth, courtesy of wins against France and Ireland, and were only pipped for third on points difference.