20 Most Memorable Matches in Six Nations History

Danny CoyleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2014

20 Most Memorable Matches in Six Nations History

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    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    The Six Nations has served up a giant catalogue of memorable matches, from full-blooded Celtic head-to-heads to raw-boned cross-border rivalries between England and their neighbours.

    Then there are the French, who have littered the old championship with plenty of flair and a reasonable number of fists down the years.

    The introduction of Italy at the turn of the century added another element of romance to a tournament that never fails to surprise.

    Here are 20 of the tournament's greatest matches.

20. Ireland 17-3 England, 1993

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    This game was made famous for lumbering lock Mick Galwey’s late try that put the seal on a victory over a Lions-stuffed England side. In the early '90s this was typical of Ireland.

    Their brand of organised chaos was enough to win against more accomplished opponents on several occasions without ever affording them the consistency required for championships or Triple Crowns.

    But that mattered not on this occasion to a delighted Lansdowne Road crowd, one of whom—in the yellow jumper—ran on to the field to congratulate Galwey on his try.

    It was his sister.

19. France 13-31 England, 1992

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    This was not a close shave on the scoreboard. But this clash in Parc des Princes makes the list for the sheer lunacy that engulfed the French.

    Les Bleus lost two members of their front row to red cards and could have seen more go for an early bath as the red mist descended. Gregoire Lascube was first to depart for a stamp on Martin Bayfield.

    And he was followed by prop Vincent Moscato for a headbutt on Jeff Probyn. Moscato never played for France again, but did take up boxing.

    Dewi Morris and Rory Underwood were both on the scoresheet as England took full advantage. Legendary Daily Mail writer Ian Wooldridge recorded the madness thus:

    Frustrated, the French lost their rhythm, their flair and their heads. And in the closing few minutes of sheer madness they resorted to a series of assaults which, if perpetrated in the high street, would have attracted the attention of the serious crime squad.

    For an insight into what a fearsome man Moscato was, check out Mick Cleary's tale of his mission to track down the so-called "Beast of Begles."

17. Wales 18-34 Scotland, 1982

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    This brought to an end to one of the longest unbeaten home stretches in the championship’s history.

    Wales had not seen their colours lowered in Cardiff since 1968, but they were left holding the wooden spoon after a memorable try from Jim Calder in a move started in Scotland’s 22 by Roger Baird.

16. Scotland 18-19 Wales, 1971

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    Those old enough will remember John Taylor the player before he became one of the game’s best commentators.

    And one of his finest moments in a Welsh shirt came in this game when the flanker stepped up in place of a concussed Barry John to kick the winning points after Gerald Davies had touched down.

    It gave rise to one of the greatest lines produced in sports journalism from BBC Wales commentator Alun Williams, who described Taylor’s successful effort as “the greatest conversion since St Paul" (via ESPN Scrum).

    This Welsh side was stuffed with names that have passed into legend—Gareth Edwards, John Dawes, JPR Williams, Davies and Taylor themselves, to name just a few of the greats—who brought home a first Welsh Grand Slam since 1952, and the first of three in the 1970s.

15. England 20-23 France, 1997

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    Stu Forster/Getty Images

    Les Bleus and Les Rosbifs were nailed on to contend the championship in this season, and it looked to be going England’s way after Lawrence Dallaglio’s muscular try.

    But French fly-half Christophe Lamaison was in inspired form, scoring a try, two conversions, two penalties and a drop goal to lead France to victory.

14. France 23-24 Scotland, 1995

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    Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

    A moment of magic from the mercurial Gregor Townsend gave Scotland their first-ever win at the Parc des Princes.

    Townsend’s reverse pass sat up perfectly for the onrushing Gavin Hastings, who strode home under the posts for a brilliant try.

    It was Hastings’ last match for Scotland, and the full-back accounted for 18 points in a fitting end to a great career.

14. England 19-26 Wales, 2008

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    In his first game in charge, Warren Gatland’s men came to Twickenham in search of their first win at the ground in 20 years.

    It looked unlikely after Toby Flood put the home side ahead with a try and the rampant Lesley Vainikolo threatened to cause havoc out wide. Jonny Wilkinson’s trusty boot made it 19-6 to the English, and Wales looked done and dusted.

    But Gatland’s side, made up of 12 Ospreys, came surging back with 20 points in 13 minutes.

    Tries from Lee Byrne and Mike Phillips plus 16 points from James Hook set them on the path to a long-awaited Grand Slam.

13. Ireland 43-13 England, 2007

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    After the demolition of Lansdowne Road, Ireland decamped to the imposing Croke Park while its replacement was built.

    The 80,000-seat home of the Gaelic Athletic Association was steeped in the animosity that existed between Ireland and England during British rule.

    The venue was the location of one of the worst tragedies of that period in 1920 when British forces gunned down a total of 14 players and spectators, including Michael Hogan, after whom the Hogan Stand is named.

    Against that backdrop, England’s first visit to the stadium made the febrile atmosphere of Murrayfield in 1990 look like a tea party.

    No sporting victory could atone for the deeds committed on either side of the Irish Sea during the troubles, but that didn’t stop the references being used to hype the contest in 2007.

    And in some way, it seemed to galvanise an Irish side never anything but hell-bent on beating the Red Rose brigade.

    This hammering was on another level to anything seen before as England were crushed.

    Leading 23-3 at half-time after tried from Girvan Dempsey and David Wallace, Ireland’s advantage was reduced by 10 points through a penalty and a David Strettle try, but Shane Horgan and Isaac Boss added another two tries to help Ireland smash their all-time record winning margin of 22-0 against England in 1947.

12. Italy 22-21 France, 2011

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    Italy recorded their first win over France in the championship in a nail-biting, one-point win at Stadio Flaminio.

    Mirco Bergamasco’s five penalties provided the bulk of their points as they came back from an 18-6 deficit.

    Vincent Clerc and Morgan Parra both scored to put Les Bleus in command. But Andrea Masi’s 59th-minute try was converted by Bergamasco to cut the gap to five points.

    The winger’s boot did the rest, adding nine more points to seal another slice of Italian rugby history.

11. Italy 34-20 Scotland, 2000

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    David Rogers/Getty Images

    Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it took the Eternal City just 80 minutes of Six Nations rugby to witness the Azzurri record a win in their first season in the championship.

    On their debut in the tournament, they had Diego Dominguez to thank for the most famous win in their history.

    The diminutive fly-half kicked 29 of Italy’s 34 points as they downed Scotland to get their fairytale off to a winning start.

10. England 21-19 France, 1991

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    This game features on many a list of the greatest tries ever scored.

    Serge Blanco’s decision to run from his own posts resulted in a sensational score for Philippe Sella following a sublime chip from Didier Camberabero, but England emerged victorious with Rory Underwood scoring their only try and bringing England their first Grand Slam in 11 years.

9. Wales 24-25 Ireland, 2003

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    Ronan O’Gara dropped his first goal for Ireland in the seventh minute of injury time to pull a game out of the fire that should never have been in doubt.

    They led 19-7 at one stage, but with heady dreams of a Grand Slam causing panic as the match wore on, Wales took full advantage.

    Ireland led 22-21 as injury time began, but a booming penalty from Stephen Jones snatched the lead for Wales.

    Ireland gathered the restart thanks to a lucky bounce for O’Gara to cancel Jones’ effort out. Then a bizarre episode followed as Wales were sure they had the penalty advantage after what looked to be a deliberate knock-on from Justin Bishop. Jones took what he thought was a free shot at a drop goal that missed.

    Rather than bringing play back for a penalty, referee Steve Lander brought things to a close, and Ireland escaped with a win.

8. Scotland 22-46 Wales, 2005

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    This tryfest at Murrayfield set a new benchmark for the highest ball-in-play time ever recorded at senior international level—43 minutes, 45 seconds.

    It also racked up the highest number of passes (428) and rucks and mauls (229) in one game. Wales plundered five first-half tries with a brand of rugby that ripped Scotland apart, with the scores coming from Ryan Jones, Rhys Williams, Shane Williams and Kevin Morgan.

    Rhys Williams scored again in the second half as Scotland rallied with three tries of their own in a game that gave full value for money. Wales went on to claim a Grand Slam that year.

7. France 33-34 Wales, 1999

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    Wales found the old Parc des Princes a miserable place to play, winning there once in the 1970s and never again. With the move to the Stade de France in 1998 after it was built for the FIFA World Cup, it was at least a chance for Wales to try their luck in a new arena.

    They took it gleefully in 1999 in an absolute classic. They were heavily fancied to go down in flames after opening their championship with losses to Scotland and Ireland, but found themselves ahead after six minutes thanks to Colin Charvis.

    Incredibly, Wales kept their good start going and led 28-18 at half-time. France, aided by a hat-trick from Emile N’tamack, roared back to 28-28 before Thomas Castaignede scored to make it 33-31.

    Five minutes were left on the clock when Neil Jenkins got the chance to regain the lead and did not fail. Wales had laid a few Parisian ghosts to rest at long last.

6. France 35-43 Wales, 2001

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    Wales came back to Paris two years later and, like an addict returning to their favourite vice, couldn’t help but indulge themselves in another high-scoring win.

    It looked highly unlikely they would get another fix when they went 19-9 down. Three tries from three Welsh Lions—Rob Howley, Scott Quinnell and Dafydd James—turned the game on its head, France replied once more through Philippe Bernat-Salles, with Christophe Lamaison’s conversion making it 35-33.

    But Neil Jenkins had the last word with a drop goal and a try of his own after charging down a kick from Bernat-Salles.

5. Scotland 13-7 England, 1990

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    In one of the championship’s most memorable encounters, both sides were gunning for the Grand Slam when they met at Murrayfield.

    The unrest over Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax and pregame tabloid targeting of English skipper Will Carling all served to stoke the fires for a game that hardly needed the hype.

    The Scots were led out in a slow walk by captain David Sole, whose side then belted out their new prematch anthem, "Flower of Scotland," being used for the first season. Tony Stanger scored the crucial try, winning the race to Gavin Hastings’ kick.

4. Wales 15-17 Ireland, 2009

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    Ireland’s first Grand Slam since 1948 was delivered in dramatic style at the Millennium Stadium.

    Wales led 6-0 at the break, but Ireland scored twice through Brian O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe before the boot of Stephen Jones brought Wales back into it.

    The hosts led 15-14 with time rapidly running out for Ireland.

    Ronan O’Gara’s drop goal edged them back in front, and they were left holding their breath as a 50-meter penalty from Jones fell short.

    Ireland’s Golden Generation had finally reached the promised land.

3. France 25-27 Ireland, 2000

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    Brian O’Driscoll announced himself to the world with a hat-trick in Paris.

    His treble helped Ireland to their first win over Les Bleus in 17 years. France led an inconsistent Irish side by 12 points in the second half when the young O’Driscoll scored his second and third tries of the match to seal a famous win and write a thrilling first chapter in the career of one of rugby’s greatest players.

2. Wales 31-24 Scotland, 2010

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    Wales hauled themselves back from 21-9 down to leave a shell-shocked Scotland wondering how they contrived to lose a game they were still leading 24-14 with less than a quarter of an hour left.

    Tries from John Barclay and Max Evans had helped put them in control, but as Wales edged back into the contest, Scotland hooker Scott Lawson was sin-binned with six minutes left.

    Leigh Halfpenny then scored to put Wales three points behind, and Scotland lost another man to the bin when Phil Godman tripped Lee Byrne.

    Stephen Jones slotted the penalty to level the scores, then Wales went for the throat. Scotland dropped a clanger with a long restart that handed them one last chance.

    A player like Shane Williams was just the man to take that chance, and he danced under the posts to make this one of the most dramatic finishes to a Six Nations game in history.

1. Wales 32-31 England, 1999

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    Wembley Stadium hosted the last match of the Five Nations before Italy joined the party.

    And the famous old ground gave it a rousing send-off. England arrived confident of sealing the championship.

    Clive Woodward's men roared out of the blocks with a try from 19-year-old Steve Hanley.

    But even when they stretched their lead to 10 points, Wales were still in the hunt thanks to the dead-eyed goal-kicking of Neil Jenkins and profligate English finishing that was summed up by a fumble from Matt Perry with the line at his mercy.

    England paid the price at the death when Scott Gibbs burst on to the ball and wrong-footed a gaggle of white shirts, leaving Jenkins to slot the winning points and hand the last Five Nations crown to Scotland.

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