Wales are still favourites to win the Six Nations championship despite missing out on the Grand Slam by the smallest of margins last weekend, after France scored a last-gasp try against them.
Tonight, in this strange Covid-19 affected world, France will play their postponed game against Scotland with a whole list of permutations to determine the eventual 2021 Six Nations champions. But there is one unusual scenario that could see history repeating itself. If France score exactly five tries and beat Scotland by exactly 20 points, they will put themselves level on points, goal difference and tries scored, which would mean the Six Nations is shared for the very first time.
However, back in 1988, the Five Nations were shared for the very last time between two teams as - you guessed it - both France and Wales were crowned champions.
Back in ‘88, when the competition was contested without Italy, teams would play just four games before a winner was crowned. Now, it must be said, this was an enthralling edition of the tournament as we saw the birth of the ‘Sweet Chariot’ song at Twickenham after a Chris Oti hat-trick, a combined England and Scotland drunken night out and the trophy being damaged as a result.
But on the pitch, heading into those championships a talented Wales side was tipped to win their first Grand Slam since 1978. They produced in key moments, with Jonathan Davies at his mesmerising best to beat a dull England side 11-3 at Twickenham, while they then came from behind in one of the all-time classic Five Nations matches. Up against Scotland, Davies scored a remarkable solo try as the Welsh mounted a comeback from 17-10 down at half-time, to win 25-20 thanks to two late drop goals. That was the game of the tournament and as the French had already lost against Scotland, and only edged England by a point, it seemed Wales were unstoppable in their quest for glory.
A gritty 12-9 win against Ireland kept Wales’ hope of a Grand Slam alive going into the final gameweek, and they must have been confident of celebrating in front of a raucous Cardiff crowd. However, France turned up to spoil the party. Fly-half Jean-Patrick Lescarboura somehow went over in the corner to put the visitors ahead and, while Wales responded in style as Ieuan Evans won the chase to his own kick to finish, the hosts fell agonisingly short, losing 10-9.
The celebration turned to dismay as France came to town and ‘stole’ the title away from them, or at the very least stopped the party. In a strange situation at full-time the French celebrated, the Welsh fell to their knees, but both teams had drawn the championship.
That’s because, even though they both scored 57 points apiece, there was no points difference used to separate the two sides, even though Wales would have won if that was the case due to their more reliable defence. Both sides finished on six points apiece and therefore shared the Championship, for what would be the final time.
As this situation occurred three times during the 1980s, by 1994 the rules had been changed so a winner could be crowned by points difference and then tries scored. Those rules were brought in to prevent the championship from ever being ‘shared’ again, but this Friday night, we may see both red and blue hands held aloft once more. This time, there truly will be nothing to separate them.