ANOTHER final day crack at glory and yet another final day Six Nations disappointment for Stuart Lancaster’s England.
For the fourth successive championship, his side finished agonisingly out of the running when the title was within their grasp.
Runners-up for a fourth consecutive season, despite an astonishing victory over France - 55 points their highest ever total against their Gallic foes - it is hard working out whether that is something to praise or lament.
Concluding a remarkable final round of fixtures today, their challenge here did, in fairness, become gargantuan before they even started given the Red Rose needed to beat Les Bleus at Twickenham by 26 points or more to deny Ireland back-to-back titles.
For all their mediocrity in recent years and having not won here for a decade, France, remarkably, had not lost a Six Nations game by more than 10 points since 2009; they have been losing but losing in a stubborn fashion, conceding just two tries all tournament before this.
Yet England almost did it in a thrilling if annoyingly unpredictable contest, Chris Robshaw’s side having a kick to the corner in the final minute knowing a converted try would give them their first title since 2011 and Lancaster’s maiden success.
However, perhaps typically given some of the errors in a frenetic but absorbing encounter, they failed to get over when almost every player was in their driving maul.
England, with scrum-half Ben Youngs outstanding, finished the tournament with four wins and completed easily the most exciting day in the competition’s history after rich drama earlier in Rome and Edinburgh.
But again it was not enough, squandered opportunities in previous games coming back to haunt them again as they lost out to Ireland on points difference for a second successive season, this time by just six as opposed to last year’s ten.
When Youngs scored the first of his two tries after just 96 seconds after some chaotic French farce, it seemed all was set.
Ford converted but, after missing a penalty soon after, it was England who turned into a shambles.
James Haskell continually knocked on, Luther Burrell failed to pick up one lose pass and, after Jules Plisson slotted a penalty, it was Courtney Lawes’ turn to fumble.
That was punished as French scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde raced in untouched from halfway to give the visitors an 8-7 lead after 14 minutes.
They were in again just four minutes later as Noa Nakaiaci capitalised on another forced Haskell pass that went to ground.
However, the France winger was almost left red-faced as he appeared to inexplicably run dead before placing the ball down.
The video match officials ruled he had just - just - completed the act of scoring before that but he was worried after Twickenham erupted with laughter.
Plisson improved and Nakaiaci raced down the touchline soon after as HQ was suddenly silenced although the hosts recovered sufficiently to this time deny him.
Plisson missed simple penalty attempts either side of Ford’s next penalty but the latter was perhaps no surprise.
The French No10 had moments earlier been flattened by Lawes just after he kicked. It sparked the first of two first half brawls but the referee rightly decreed the tackle was legal and, from the ensuing scrum they won, Ford kicked the points.
Anthony Watson scored on the half-hour following a fine Youngs break before England scored a wonderful effort in the 37th minute, Ford taking a long, quick line-out to Jonathan Joseph five metres from his own line, the centre surging downfield and, eventually, after France infringed, Mike Brown having the speed of though to take a quick tap that allowed Youngs to dummy over for his second.
Ford’s conversion allied to a penalty on the stroke of half-time made it 27-15 at the interval and England’s hopes were rightly revived.
Yet they started the second period dismally as Maxime Mermoz went over far too easily from close range for replacement Rory Kockott to add the extras.
Of course, the hosts duly responded as the see-saw theme continued, Youngs - brilliant all afternoon - sniping clear for Ford to score and convert.
Kockott responded with three points only for Jack Nowell to score the first of his two tries after slick hands down the narrow side.
Ford kicked but Haskell’s woeful afternoon got worse as he was yellow carded and, while he was off, Nakaitaci tip-toed 40m down the left wing again to put, remarkably, the supporting loosehead prop Vincent Debaty over to make it 41-30.
Billy Vuniploa muscled over only for Benjamin Kayser to do likewise at the other end but Nowell’s second got them to within touching distance once more.
There was no grand finale, though, and Lancaster must hope all his disappointments in the Six Nations can be reversed when it comes to the World Cup.
It was a dramatic ending to a day that had copious amounts of the stuff both at Twickenham and in Edinburgh but Rome, too, as the most thrilling day in the competition’s history arrived at a fittingly mesmerising conclusion.
Leaders England had started the morning as favourites to take the Championship given, though they were level on points with Ireland and Wales heading into the final round, they had the best points difference and, crucially, played last in the staggered schedule.
Everything was going to plan with Wales just 14-13 ahead at the break against Italy during the day’s opening lunchtime fixture.
However, everything was turned on its head when Warren Gatland’s side - rank outsiders for the Championship before kick-off - produced an historic performance running in 47 unanswered points to take a 60-14 lead in Rome, more than any side had ever amassed in a second half of Six Nations football.
Even then, though, there was more drama as they conceded a last-minute converted try to Leonardo Sarto’s breakaway.
Rarely, if ever, can conceding a try when so far ahead cause so much consternation and frustration in the victorious side yet, suddenly, rather than having to beat France by 23 points, Wales knew England’s target was now a much more manageable 16.
However, that would all become immaterial after subsequent events in Murrayfield.
Ireland started their game in Scotland needing to make 20 points up on Wales to apply pressure on England.
The pressure of that task seemed, initially, even to unnerve the usually nerveless Jonny Sexton, who missed two relatively simple penalties in the second half when their lead was still stuck at that very total.
They recovered to eventually prosper 40-10 meaning Wales’ hopes were ended and England faced that mountainous total. Their chances were dented further when Ireland No8 Jamie Heaslip brilliantly denied Scotland’s Stuart Hogg a try four minutes from time which could have made such a difference.
In fact, looking at that final Twickenham margin, it did….
England: Brown; Watson (Cipriani 63), Joseph, Burrell (Twelvetrees 72), Nowell; Ford, B Youngs (Wigglesworth 72); Marler (M Vunioloa 63), Hartley (T Youngs 53), Cole (Brookes 63), Parling (Easter 68), Lawes, Haskell (Wood 68), Robshaw, B Vunipola.
France: Spedding; Huget, Fickou, Mermoz (Bastreaud 72), Nakaitaci; Plisson (Tales 72), Tillous-Borde (Kockott 40); Debaty (Antonio 62), Guirado, Mas, Flanquart, Maestri, Dusantoir, Le Roux, Goujon (Chouly 63).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)