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6 of the greatest matches in Six Nations history

Graham Woods picks his favourite memories of recent years

Ireland and England line up at Croke Park, Dublin in 2007
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Ireland 6 England 42

Round five, 2003

This was a Grand Slam showdown in Dublin as both teams arrived with a perfect four wins from four.

England had been there before, in 2001, and blew their Slam hopes, just as they did in 2000 against Scotland and in 1999 against Wales.

So the pressure was on Clive Woodward’s team and they were desperate to head for the World Cup that autumn with a Grand Slam under their belts.

As if there wasn’t enough tension in the build-up, England skipper Martin Johnson ramped it up by lining his team up on the wrong side for the anthems and refusing to move. The upshot was that the Ireland then lined up further down the pitch meaning Irish president Mary McAleese had to walk on the grass rather than the red carpet to meet the players and got her shoes muddy. Shocking.

Ireland took the lead through a David Humphreys drop goal but had no answer to a five-try blitz from England, who took the slam and, later in the year, the World Cup too.

Ireland 43 England 13

Round three, 2007

In a historic move, Ireland played their Six Nations matches at Croke Park for four seasons starting in 2007 as Lansdowne Road was demolished and rebuilt.

Playing rugby at the historic and spiritual home of GAA sparked huge controversy and debate, and the fact that Ireland would be hosting England at a venue where in 1920 British troops had opened fire on spectators, killing 14 people and wounding at least 60 more, added plenty of fuel to the fire.

Ireland’s first match at Croke Park ended in last-gasp defeat to France so passion and emotions were stoked to the absolute maximum.

Despite some concerns from organisers, the singing of God Save the Queen was impeccably observed - then the Irish anthems, and the roar that followed, seemed to shake the stadium’s very foundations. The tears in the eyes of Ireland prop John Hayes, a 20-stone slab of Limerick farmer, were shared by fans in the stadium and in pubs up and down the country. 

Captain Brian O’Driscoll gathered the players for a last huddle with a huge smile on his face, probably telling the players there was no way they could lose after that. The Irish players seemed to grow in stature during the anthems and won practically every collision in the match, pummelling England for the full 80 minutes.

Wales 15 Ireland 17

Round five, 2009

Ireland had last won the Championship in 1985 when it was the Five Nations and despite a consistent record, a couple of near misses and three Triple Crowns in four years from 2004 to 2007, frustration was mounting.

Cardiff was the venue for another title decider - Wales needed to win by 13 points or more to retain their title, a home victory by 12 points or less would hand the title to Ireland, and an Irish victory would bring a first Grand Slam since 1948.

No pressure then, as Wales forged a 6-0 lead in a tense first half that was quickly overturned after the break by tries from Brian O'Driscoll and Tommy Bowe. More Welsh penalties followed and a drop goal from Stephen Jones five minutes from the end put Wales back in front.

The drama was only just starting though as Ronan O’Gara put Ireland back in the lead with two minutes to go, then Wales were awarded a penalty just inside their half to snatch it at the death. Jones stepped up but his effort fell just short and Ireland put 68 years of hurt behind them.

Italy 23 France 18

Round one, 2013

Italy had beaten France at home for the first time two years earlier but there was something about their 2013 success that set it apart.

The Azzurri moved their home games from Rome’s Stadio Flaminio to the Olympic Stadium in 2012, and for this encounter put on a stirring show.

Scores of former Italy internationals were presented to the crowd on the pitch before the match and lined up wearing their caps opposite the players for the most rousing of anthems.

The Italian players seemed to gather strength from the occasion and Sergio Parisse - with hair in those days - crossed for the first try after five minutes.

France were never out of it, leading at the break, and the final moments were incredibly tense as Italy held out wave after wave of French attack, but the celebrations at the final whistle were a fitting finale.

Wales 30 England 3

Round five, 2013

Yet another title decider, but the teams had arrived there by different routes.

Title favourites England had won all four of their matches while defending Grand Slam champions Wales had lost to Ireland in the first round, clawed a nervy win in France in their next match, and appeared to be growing in confidence, having won three away matches on the bounce without conceding a try.

Wales had to win by eight points or more to win the title on points difference and they set about their task with belief and determination in a hugely physical confrontation.

It was 9-3 to the hosts at the break but a brace from winger Alex Cuthbert in the final 25 minutes was reward for Wales’s dominance in a hugely impressive performance.

England 55 France 35

Round five, 2015

Or was it a great match? Purists might see it as a bit of a farce, more of a throwaround in the park than a serious Test match.

By the final round of the 2015 Six Nations, Wales, Ireland and England were all in with a chance of taking the title on points difference and all were warm favourites to win their matches.

Wales kicked off in Italy and ran in eight tries to win 61-20, but Ireland nudged ahead of them in the table with a 40-10 victory in Scotland later that day, taking their points difference to +63 compared to Wales’s +53.

It was all down to England, who needed to beat France by 26 points or more at Twickenham in the final match to reach the top of the table.

Scrum-half Ben Youngs set them on their way with a try inside three minutes, but the game was so open as France took the lead in the first quarter and a roller-coaster ride ensued.

England scored seven tries to France’s five but a 20-point margin wasn’t enough and they had to settle for second for the fourth consecutive year.


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God Save the Queen was impeccably observed - then the Irish anthems, and the roar that followed, seemed to shake the stadium’s very foundations
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