An hour after the final whistle on Saturday, when even the most committed Irish supporters had emptied the stands and danced off into the Dublin evening, the Ireland players, coaches and management were still mingling on the Aviva Stadium pitch.
Each member of the set-up was heavily outnumbered by family and friends, to a person drinking in the achievement of a first Grand Slam on home soil in the professional era.
It was a lovely sight and a fitting end to a Six Nations that promised so much and delivered in equal measure.
To say the sport was able to park its problems during the tournament would be naïve – at one point the Welsh financial crisis threatened to throw the whole championship off course, while the controversy around Freddie Steward’s red card was a stark reminder of how the game is grappling with its very essence.
But over the course of six dramatic weeks, the enduring appeal of the Six Nations, a tournament like no other, was there in abundance. In the words of former Wales captain Sam Warburton, it is the gift that keeps on giving.
However, while the majority of the games at one point felt in the balance – the tournament may never have been as competitive as this across the board – the irony is that in mid-March we are pretty much as we were in early February.
Ireland and France started the tournament head and shoulders above the rest; they end it that way too. Twelve months ago the French swept the board after beating Ireland in round two; this year the roles were reversed.
So while Ireland deservedly end the championship on top of world rugby, France are not too far behind. Both are outstanding rugby teams.
Elsewhere Scotland’s three wins ensured they are the best of the rest – which is backed up by the world rankings – but they missed opportunities to take a major scalp, a familiar frustration for Scottish supporters after a narrow defeat by New Zealand in the autumn.
England and Wales came into the tournament in poor form and with new coaches promising fresh starts, but end it with as many questions as answers. A couple of months into the new regimes, and neither seem sure yet about their best team, or their best style.
England were not able to improve on their two wins in 2022, nor Wales on their solitary victory a year ago. Both Steve Borthwick and Warren Gatland are up against coaches who have been building their teams over the course of at least three years, and it shows.
Both are also grappling with turbulent domestic scenes – in Wales especially – and questions over squad depth and the effectiveness of their player pathways. England Under-20s were hammered at home by France, while the Welsh U20s lost all five matches.
Finally, Italy were improving and threatening, ensuring no game felt like a dead rubber – great for the tournament – but nonetheless finished winless.
So where does it leave us ahead of the World Cup?
While the Irish and French are in great shape, they inhabit the treacherous side of the draw. Both could do little wrong and still find themselves knocked out at the quarter-final stage.
Scotland, for all their improvements and joyous attack, face an uphill battle to get out of their group. So do Italy.
England and Wales have shown little to suggest they can make a mark come the autumn, but with a favourable draw and a long training camp, anything is possible.
As Warburton remarked on the Rugby Union Daily, it does not take long to build belief and confidence in World Cup year, as the Welsh showed in 2011.
History too is littered with examples of teams upsetting the odds come the main event, whether England in 2007, France in 2011, Australia in 2015, or South Africa themselves last time out.
Outstanding Dupont shines once again
When it comes to individuals, a host of players took a step up to the next level, such as the Irish trio of Dan Sheehan, Caelan Doris and Hugo Keenan – all now genuinely world-class – while others announced themselves on the big stage, including another Irishman Mack Hansen and Sione Tuipulotu of Scotland.
There were also players who reminded us of their class, like Finn Russell, Damian Penaud, Johnny Sexton and Charles Ollivon.
Meanwhile Antoine Dupont, the player of the championship in 2020 and 2022, again showed us why he is on the way to becoming an all-time great, with his performance in France’s dismantling of England at Twickenham one for the ages.
At times Dupont looks like a combination of every great scrum-half that has ever played – the physicality of Joost van der Westhuizen, the influence of Gareth Edwards, the linking of George Gregan, the game understanding of Matt Dawson – and accounted for a handful of the tournament’s most memorable moments on his own; whether it was his pass for Penaud against Wales, his left-footed 50:22 against England, or his miraculous tackle on Hansen against Ireland.
Dupont is a special player in a special team. He could elevate his stardom to even greater heights later this year.