Irish Independent experts choose their favourite Irish rugby moments of all time
The figure of eight before Ireland beat New Zealand in Chicago.
On 29 previous occasions, the Haka was a prelude to an Ireland loss or draw but at Soldier Field the team lined out in a figure of eight and changed history. It was an act of dignity followed by a performance filled with defiance as they produced a five-try performance to beat the All Blacks for the first time. Spine-tingling stuff.
Stephen Jones’ kick falling short in 2009. It marked deliverance for our most talented generation of players and the Grand Slam remains Irish rugby’s stand-out achievement. But . . . what makes the climactic Cardiffian sequence so memorable is how the finale to an Irish sporting fairy tale takes such a sharp right turn into a slasher film. It’s impossible to rewatch this moment without wincing at the thought of an alternate universe where Paddy Wallace spends the rest of his life in stockades for depriving a nation of one of its greatest sporting moments.
When Kevin Flynn sliced through England’s defence to score a last-minute winning try for Ireland in the 1972 Five Nations, this Nenagh child discovered a love for our rugby team he had not known existed. Having already won in Paris,
sadly Ireland were denied a Grand Slam and Championship opportunity when Scotland and Wales chose not to come to Dublin for security reasons, ‘Bloody Sunday’ having
occurred in Derry just weeks earlier.
Standing in the terrace with my Shannon U-20 team-mates, who all also had aspirations of playing for Ireland on the Lansdowne Road turf in front of us, I will never forget the elation at seeing our club-mate Mick Galwey score the decisive try against England in 1993.
It has to be the Ronan O’Gara’s drop goal to win the Grand Slam in Cardiff. Peter Stringer moved the Irish pack until they were in the best place for the set-up. ROG nailed it and we hit the roof.
Stephen Jones’ missed penalty, Millennium Stadium, March 2009. When you think something is going to be taken away from you, it sharpens how much it means to you. After O’Gara’s wonder drop goal, it looked like Ireland had won the Grand Slam. And then . . . the pain of the penalty concession followed by the pleasure of the penalty miss was equally intense. Seeing Paul O’Connell wildly celebrate topped it off .
Shane Horgan’s try down the right-hand side in Twickenham with 90 seconds left when the score was 24-21 to England and them certain they had the game won. The best try ever scored by an Irish winger with a high degree of difficulty with the tackle of Lewis Moody the proximity of the touchline and the stretch-out spilling when grounding the ball. O’Gara’s conversion was just sweet to drive the knife home.
The deathly silence that fell around the Millennium Stadium told its own story, but the sight of Paul O’Connell attempting to get back to his feet before collapsing onto the turf is an image that will stay with me forever. Memorable perhaps for a different reason, it was a cruel way for one of Ireland’s finest to bow out of the game.
The historic 43-13 Six Nations victory over England at Croke Park in 2007 was a seminal occasion. It was all about that occasion rather than any particular moment in the game. They say you should never mix politics and sport, but this time it worked. It was hair-raising. There was a lot said about whether the crowd was going to respect the national anthem. From the moment that the GAA agreed to open the pitches this game was coming. Even though France were in Croke Park beforehand, the England game was the one everyone was looking forward to. The rugby took second place. As a nation, we took history on the chin, moved on, and it was a super occasion.
Former Ireland and Munster back-row David Wallace was on the pitch and got to experience his favourite Irish moment first hand, at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on March 21, 2009.
“I carried just before and I’m not sure if I even saw the ball going over because I was in the bottom of the ruck,” said Wallace.
“We were going through a few phases, one slight knock-on, or being forced backwards could have cost us. So, for Ronan O’Gara to take that drop goal, there was so much pressure.
“But it was an historical moment. We hadn’t spoken about a Grand Slam all that campaign. There were murmurs from the media but we were just tipping along and it built.
“We had a phenomenal high that nearly went very low when Paddy Wallace conceded the penalty. I think the ref apologised to him after. He was supposedly pulled into the ruck, or so he says.”
Journalist and former Connacht team manager John Fallon said that seeing five Connacht players on the field against Italy in 2016 was a moment few west of the Shannon every foresaw.
“I was the Connacht team manager back in 2002-03 when the IRFU was trying to get rid of us and, in all honesty, it was a bit of a struggle at times to find reasons to save the professional team in the province.
“Traditionally international representation was scarce, the odd player here and there. A key part of our argument was that Connacht needed the time and the resources to develop but never in our wildest dreams did we envisage that within a decade and a half that an Irish team would win a Six Nations match with five Connacht players on the field at the finish.
“But that came to pass on 12 March 2016 when Ireland scored a record win and one-third of the team that completed the record 58-15 win coming from Connacht.
“There is a wonderful photo after the game of Kieran Marmion, Nathan White, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane and Robbie Henshaw, all linked together, crowning a glorious day for fans west of the Shannon.”