Before this year’s Six Nations pundits and fans alike were predicting that it would be the most evenly contested instalment of the Northern Hemisphere’s premier rugby tournament in years. Although England are the clear favourites right now, it has so far lived up to these expectations, with the new bonus points system setting up the tantalising prospect of a Championship-deciding match between Ireland and Eddie Jones’s men in the final round. It is clear the tournament is as exciting as ever and retains its great allure to rugby fans. Therefore, it is an ideal time to go back and look at some of the most incredible moments in the Championship’s rich history.
A drop-kick of a Grand Slam
At times the line in international sport between success and failure, history and ignominy, is remarkably thin. A fine example occurred at the end of a dramatic match at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in 2009. It had been 61 years since Ireland had won a Grand Slam and it looked like they would have to wait at least another as they trailed Wales 14-15 with just two minutes to go. A wonderful opportunity was about to slip through their collective fingers. Step forward fly-half Ronan O’Gara. Loitering on the edge of the 22-yard line, he was coolness personified as he collected the ball and slotted a drop-goal straight through the middle of the posts, causing scenes of wild delirium amongst Irish fans – and the watching commentators. The Grand Slam was secured, as was O’Gara’s rugby immortality.
Last day madness
Before the final day of the 2015 Six Nations, you had a sense that we were about to be treated to something special. Yet no one was expecting what happened on what was quickly named ‘Super Saturday’, with 221 points and 27 tries being scored in the day’s 3 matches. Firstly Wales put on a scintillating second-half display to thrash Italy 61-20 in Rome, giving them an outside chance of the title, until Ireland comfortably beat Scotland 40-10. This made it a two-horse race, with England then needing to beat France by 26 points to lift the trophy. What followed was a 90-point thriller that was exhausting to watch, let alone play in. With only five minutes left England were just one score short but were unable to get across the line in their 55-35 win. In the end, Ireland were left to celebrate at Murrayfield in the darkness with the fans who had waited around tensely for the outcome of the extraordinary game at Twickenham. The rest of us were left wondering what an earth had just happened.
Italy’s amazing arrival
They may have become the annual whipping boys of the Six Nations, despite the progress they are gradually making, but Italy’s first appearance in the newly expanded tournament in 2000 was a truly memorable one. With many questioning whether they were good enough to be included at all, they ran out 34-20 winners in Rome against Scotland – who just happened to be the defending champions. They were given no chance of a win of any sorts that year, having conceded 196 points in the 1999 World Cup. Nevertheless, a historic victory was secured, orchestrated by a marvellous Diego Dominguez who kicked 29 of his sides 34 points, including 3 drop goals. The Italians had arrived – and in a way no one had imagined possible.
Slamming in style
Almost as soon as this year’s fixtures were announced, people have been talking about how England will need to beat Ireland in Ireland to win a second consecutive Grand Slam in what is bound to be an enthralling last match of the tournament. Yet this isn’t new to England – they did it before in the World Cup winning year of 2003. And how they did it. The home side were looking for their first Grand Slam in over half a century, whilst England went into the game knowing that they had fallen at the final hurdle the previous three years. The match, also remembered for Martin Johnson leading his team out to Ireland’s side for the pre-match presentation and refusing to move, was nowhere near as tight as people expected. Sir Clive Woodward’s men were simply brilliant at Lansdowne Road, winning emphatically 42-6. Built on a rock-solid defence and involving five tries, and considering the circumstances, it remains one of the finest performances in the tournament’s history.
The ultimate comeback in Cardiff
Down the years there have been some amazing comebacks in the Six Nations but none quite as astonishing as the one Wales pulled off against Scotland in Cardiff in 2010. With 5 minutes remaining, the Scots had a healthy 24-14 lead and cruising to victory, with Wales looking lost for ideas. What happened next was simply stunning. First Leigh Halfpenny scored underneath the points, before fly-half Ryan Jones levelled the scores with a penalty. With only 40 seconds left on the clock, surely that was it? Wrong. In the final play of the match, Wales tore forwards and the ball fell into the hands of their record try-scorer Shane Williams, who crashed over to secure the kind of win words alone cannot do justice to. Sometimes in sport things start to feel inevitable, as the momentum and belief in one side rises and the resignation and shock sets in to the opponents. You had to feel for Scotland but were left in complete awe of Wales. The greatest come back in the history of international rugby? It could very well be.
To find out more about the superb rugby gap year programmes run by Sport Lived, click here.