Friday 30 September 2016

From BOD brilliance to Grand Slam glory - Relive 10 of Ireland's best Six Nations moments

Tom Rooney

Published 20/01/2016 | 11:42

Ireland Grand Slam winning team 2009
Ireland Grand Slam winning team 2009

It's that time of year again when the Six Nations is almost upon us so now is as good a time as any to reflect on some of Ireland's greatest moments in the competition.

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2000. Brian O'Driscoll scores an incredible hat-trick as Ireland beat France 27-25 in Paris

The first Championship of the century will be remembered for Italy’s inaugural participation and, indeed, an individual tour de force from a future great. 

A baby-faced Brain O’Driscoll announced himself as a coming force in world rugby with a mesmeric hat-trick of tries as Ireland recorded a famous victory over France in Paris; their first in the city since 1972.

Winning just his 11th cap, O’Driscoll beguiled the French defence with the full array of skills that would make a one of game’s marquee centres for many years to come.

 

2001. Keith Wood charges over against England at Lansdowne Road

In his final campaign at the helm, Warren Gatland led an exceedingly young Irish squad to a second place finish behind Clive Woodward’s England. A significant defeat to Scotland scuppered Ireland’s chances for a much sought after Grand Slam, but home wins over France and England were considerable achievements.

Then Irish captain Keith Wood, who would embark on a second Lions tour that summer, scored the decisive try in the victory over England at Lansdowne Road in the penultimate round. Off a well-worked line-out, the former Munster hooker peeled beautifully and powered through a gap to touch down.

Ireland held on to win by 20-14.

2004. A rare win over England at Twickenham

England were still basking in the glory of being crowned the Northern Hemisphere’s first world champions only five months previous, but the departure of Clive Woodward and key senior players was already showing  adverse signs.

Ireland would hand England their first loss at Twickenham since 1999 thanks to a Girvan Dempsey try and kicking a master class from Ronan O’Gara. The victory started a concentrated period of dominance Ireland would enjoy over the old enemy.

If not for an opening day loss to France in Paris, Ireland would have been outright champions. Still, the Triple Crown was nothing to sneeze at.

2006. An outstretched Shane Horgan secures another victory in Tiwckenham

In 2006, Ireland would once more finish second fiddle to France overall as the Gallic hoodoo continued to haunt them. Yet, the overriding feelings were positive.

On the final day, Eddie O’Sullivan’s side came away from the English capital with another famous win and the Triple Crown in tow.

A tight contest in which Ireland were forced to ride their luck at times, Shane Horgan scored his second try of the day in the last minute to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat.

2007. A historic occasion at Croke Park

During this epoch of Irish rugby, beating England, winning the Triple Crowns and finishing behind France became oddly recurring themes.

In 2007, it was not just the victory over an England side - now coached by Brian Ashton, who once led Ireland – that was significant, but also the game being contested in Croke Park.

The political dynamic of the match dominated the build up but, in the end, the entire occasion never took a turn for the ugly. As for the rugby, Ireland were simply unplayable. The hosts scored four tries during a 43-13 demolition, the third of which will forever live in the memory.

Who could forget Shane Horgan leaping into the night sky to catch Ronan O’Gara’s perfectly weighted cross-field kick before touching down in the corner?

How fitting it was that the skills Horgan first learned playing Gaelic Games that allowed him field the ball with such aplomb. Brian O’Driscoll was named player of the tournament for the second year running.

2009. Ireland scalp France at Croker

Declan Kidney’s maiden Six Nations as head coach yielded Ireland’s first Championship in 61 years, and began what turned out to be a banner year for the game here.

Ireland gave a serious statement of intent by running in three fine tries en route to finally getting the French monkey off the back with a 30-21 victory. Jamie Heaslip and Brian O’Driscoll both showed dancing feet in touching down in Croke Park, while Gordon D’Arcy came off the bench to ice the cake.

2009. 61 years of waiting finally ends in Cardiff

Ireland arrived at the Millennium Stadium on the cusp of glory, though Warren Gatland, antagonist in chief, was never going to allow the denouement of a 61 year drought be a smooth one.

With a win over Ireland, the Welsh could have clinched the Championship on points and, with Lions places up for grabs, a brutally-contested battle followed.

Within six minutes of the restart Ireland went over for converted tries from Tommy Bowe and Brian O’Driscoll and, for a time, the visitor’s lead felt unassailable. But, through the boot of Stephen Jones, Wales clawed their way back into contention.

With two minutes on the clock, Ronan O’Gara, with typical nerves of steel, sent over what looked the Championship winning drop goal, and the travelling green hordes went into pure pandemonium. 

However, the faint of heart would be forced to endure one more cardiac incident. Substitute Paddy Wallace conceded penalty at a ruck and Jones stepped up to the tee with a chance of smashing Ireland’s dreams in to pieces. His subsequent penalty fell just short and with 80 minutes elapsed, Geordan Murphy kicked to touch  and the celebrations began.

2013. Brain O'Driscoll gives the Millennium Stadium one final flash of his genius

Unfortunately, the achievement in Cardiff did not prove a harbinger for continued success under the Declan Kidney. The 2011 World Cup provided some wonderful moments, notably the win over Australia, but the team’s overall progression was decidedly stagnant.

We return to Cardiff four years on from that famous victory at the beginning of what proved Kidney’s final and progressively disastrous Championship at the helm. Though for much of the opening game against Wales, Ireland appeared to be on an upward curve.

With seven minutes remaining in the first half the visitors had amassed a 20-0 lead. The highlight of which was Brian O’Driscoll’s near miraculous pass for Simon Zebo’s 10th minute try. The aging centre proved once again that old adage of class being permanent. Ireland held on for 30-22 win, but the remainder of the competition need not be relived.

2014. Schmdit delivers Championship first time out as O'Driscoll says goodbye in Paris

Joe Schmidt’s arrival as head coach had been greeted as though he possessed powers of a supernatural kind, given the silverware he delivered when in charge at Leinster. Expectations were quickly tempered when the Autumn internationals yielded one win from three.

Still, with his methods now embedded, Ireland raised many en eyebrow in the 2014 Six Nations, with a narrow loss to England the only blemish on their record as they arrived in Pairs with the Championship in their hands.  

The Irish players put life and limb on the line as they scrapped to a 22-20 win. The physicality of the contest was astonishing, almost frightening. There was the disturbing sight of Johnny Sexton being carted off after offering his body as a target for Mathieu Bastareaud’s bulldozing charges.

But brains eventually trumped brawn, and tries from Sexton and Andrew Trimble, along with a herculean defensive effort, ensured a tearful Brian O’Driscoll bowed out from the international stage in Roy of the Rovers style; though not before Damien Chouly’s late try was correctly ruled out for a forward pass.

2015. Title retained on Super Saturday

On a day deemed Super Saturday, three fixtures throughout the day would decide a Championship that was within touching distance for all but Scotland and Italy. Ireland came to Edinburgh on the back of a disappointing loss to Wales after which the conservative methods of Joe Schmidt were heavily criticised.

The Welsh thumped Italy in the early kick off, and Ireland responded by giving Scotland similar treatment Playing with more ambition than usual, the visitors ran in four tries en route to a 40-10 victory. All eyes then turned to Twickenham where England and France put on a showdown for the ages. 

Although England won by 55-35, it wasn’t enough to better Ireland’s tally as they took the title by the narrowest of margins. It came own to points difference; Ireland finished with +63, while England were agonisingly close on +57.

Ireland’s players and fans watched the drama unfold in London on a massive screen in Murrayfield, before Paul O’Connell made his Six Nations farewell by hoisting the trophy for the second year running. Incidentally he also won player of the tournament.

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