Only two of the six have completed a Grand Slam on enemy territory — Ireland and England. Each will have a vested interest in whether France can prevent Wales joining them next Saturday night.
Ireland clinched their Slams at Cardiff in 2009 and Twickenham nine years later, England theirs at Lansdowne Road in 2003 and at the Stade de France five years ago. Should Wales emerge triumphant from the same venue in continuing defiance of all the odds, the rest will have to cough up.
How the tournament cookie crumbles changes in the event of a Grand Slam champion as opposed to an ordinary one. The prize fund, 15% of the overall revenue, works out at not far short of €20m, a sliding scale determined by final position but lavish enough to ensure Italy a lot more than a wooden spoon.
They will collect virtually a seven-figure sum, handsome compensation for being bashed from pillar to post and back again. A Grand Slam winner earns an extra 1% bonus, worth more than €1m as stumped up by the five other countries.
As if losing in Cardiff over successive rounds last month didn’t hurt enough, Ireland and England will be hit in the pocket to the tune of at least €200,000 should Wayne Pivac’s unfancied leaders clear their Beecher’s Brook. A gallant effort and a losing bonus point would almost certainly make them champions, a scenario which would at least spare the Irish, English, and every other union from paying extra for their success.
Even if they finish on a high against England, Johnny Sexton & Co will be hard pushed to stop kicking themselves for giving a fragile Welsh team such unwitting encouragement in Cardiff six weeks ago. But for Peter O’Mahony’s early red, they may well have fallen at the first fence.
From such a fortuitous start, the rank outsiders have improved with every subsequent round, making the most of their luck.
An exhilarating comeback in Scotland, a record 40 points against England and a regal romp in Rome has put them so far out in front as to be almost out of sight.
Now that everything’s going their way, not least England’s neighbourly act at Twickenham in eliminating France, they will go for broke in Paris on what, by strange coincidence, will be an historic occasion.
It marks the golden anniversary of the last Welsh team to clinch the Slam in France, at Stade Colombes on March 27, 1971, a side built around a pair of halfbacks who were more than a bit useful: Gareth Edwards and Barry John.
The blazer brigade will be turning in their graves at the very mention of it, but there can be no denying that one of the game’s great traditions has taken a serious bashing. The black tie banquet, as remembered (or not), by generations of players, had been on the way out before Covid put paid to it.
In an era when so many of the ancient customs and rituals have been pulverised by professionalism, the demise of the dinner may spare the old game from being held up to public ridicule. Such occasions have always had an ample propensity for going spectacularly wrong, never more so in my experience than on a riotous Saturday night in Queensland 30 years ago straight after the Wallabies had walloped Wales 63-6.
As it turned out, the tourists seemed to save all their fight for an internal domestic club issue except they made the mistake of turning the dance floor at Ballymore into a series of catchweight scuffles which caused some blood to be spilt. The Brisbane Brawl, in front of wives and girlfriends of the Australian players, made Wales a laughing stock.
What happened nine years earlier at another banquet on another continent could have had fatal consequences for England prop Colin Smart.
Beneath the chandeliered grandeur of the Hotel Lutetia, commandeered by the Gestapo during the Nazis’ occupation of Paris, Smart fell victim to a prank, tricked by a team-mate into drinking a pint of beer unaware that the contents of an after-shave bottle, a gift for every player, had been poured into his glass.
A dinner in Edinburgh after the Scotland-England match in 1988 fuelled another infamous incident starring back row rivals Dean Richards and John Jeffrey in a Calcutta Cup kickabout along Princes Street. Jeffrey got six months from the SRU, Richards one match from the RFU which made the episode look even more ridiculous. It could never happen again but there again, you never know…
Romain Poite went to extraordinary lengths at Murrayfield yesterday to restore the good name of French refereeing. Being dumped more than once on his derriere for getting too close to the action did not deter him from scrabbling about in a ruck on his hands and knees before awarding Tadhg Beirne’s try.
The most revealing moment came a little later with a besieged Irish team close to giving away one penalty too many. Johnny Sexton saw ominous parallels between the referee’s warning at Murrayfield and that of his compatriot Pascal Gauzere to England early in the match at Cardiff.
Told to warn his team by Poite, as Owen Farrell had been told by Gauzere, Sexton saw the danger.
Poite caught the fear on his face and understood why, assuring him: "Don’t be scared. I will come back on. My whistle…"
In other words, Ireland would be given due notice of the game restarting, a courtesy denied England by Gauzere. Ironically, the pea in Poite’s whistle was on the verge of going kaput which it duly did forcing him to send for a substitute.
The final blast confirmed a significant victory for Sexton over Finn Russell in a Lions’ context. Having started by engineering the first Irish try and finished with the ultimate pressure kick from near the touchline, Ireland’s captain clearly outpointed his mercurial opposite number.
He may take more time over his place kicks than anyone else but, at 35, who’s to say he won’t stretch his season all the way to August as the oldest Lions’ Test 10 of all-time, assuming the home ‘tour’ goes ahead.
Even in lockdown, the Six Nations gave the rest of the rugby planet a timely reminder of the tournament’s enduring appeal. England-France, straight after Wales had run riot against Italy, was simply terrific followed by a thriller at Murrayfield and the combined viewing figures will top ten million.
Therein lies the rub. Next week’s finale, with France-Scotland earmarked for March 26, will almost certainly be the last on terrestrial television. The organisers should think carefully about the long-term wisdom of sacrificing a massive audience for more cash.
The Four Home Unions are awash with money, all €280m as their share of the Six Nations’ selling a one-seventh stake in the tournament to the global private equity firm CVC. The same Four Home Unions run the British and Irish Lions who have asked the UK Government to underwrite the cost of a home Lions tour should the pandemic force them to play behind closed doors.
And that at a time when the National Health Service employees are up in arms at being offered a miserly 1% pay rise. Why would provoke another public outcry by backing a rugby tour?
15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland).
14 Anthony Watson (England).
13 George North (Wales).
12 Gael Fickou (France).
11 Damian Penaud (France).
10 Mathieu Jalibert (France).
9 Ben Youngs (England).
1 Cyril Baillie (France).
2 Ken Owens (Wales).
3 Kyle Sinckler (England).
4 Romain Taofifenua (France).
5 James Ryan (Ireland).
6 Tadhg Beirne (Ireland).
7 Tom Curry (England).
8 Billy Vunipola (England).