4 Thrilling Six Nations Finishes

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2014

4 Thrilling Six Nations Finishes

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    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    The Six Nations comes to its climax this weekend as Ireland travel to France to play for the title.

    In Rome, England play Italy in an earlier kick-off and will attempt to pile up the points, readying to pounce if Ireland fail in Paris.

    With Brian O’Driscoll bowing out after a peerless career, it will be an electric atmosphere in the French capital with Philippe Saint-Andre’s erratic side out to spoil the party.

    It promises to be an exciting finish to a championship that has given us some nerve-jangling final days down the years, with Grand Slams going begging and glory being sealed in last-gasp fashion.

    Here we look back at four finishes that played the drama out to the final whistle of the final day, from bizarre results that saw one-off outcomes to ancient rivalries that transcended the sport.

    The old championship has conjured every sort of denouement you could imagine.

1. Five-Way Tie, 1973

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    David Rogers/Getty Images

    This year’s championship has come down to the wire with three sides in the hunt on the final day. There's a chance it could be decided by points difference.

    Such an outcome was impossible back in 1973 when points difference didn’t come into play. This was the era of the great Welsh side containing Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett (above), but they weren't yet good enough to rule the tournament, despite having the best points difference.

    Instead, all five sides were awarded a share of the title after Ireland beat France by six points on the last day to complete a curious set of results, which saw each team win both their home games and lose both on their travels.

    Dan Lucas in the Guardian wrote:

    The match reports throughout described the games as intriguing rather than espousing any particularly enthralling rugby on display, which is perhaps a portent to this year's championship. It would be a couple of years before Wales set the rugby world on fire – Ireland took the title outright the following year – as their great side was still in its embryonic stage. It wasn't a tournament of memorable rugby nor of any great side, but rather a statistical curio that will, with the advent of points difference as a tie-breaker in 1994 and the addition of Italy in 2000 making such an equal record impossible, forever stand alone in the record books.

2. Sole Marches Scots to Glory, 1990

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    England travelled to Murrayfield amid the uneasy mix of sport and politics that seldom leaves a nice taste in the mouth.

    If you were Scottish, this Five Nations ended with the flavor of success in the form of English blood on their lips. It was a winner-take-all scenario in the final weekend of the championship with the Grand Slam on the line.

    In the background, the Poll Tax was being given a dummy run on the people of Scotland, a political decision that firmly established English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as public enemy No. 1.

    Since she wasn’t picked by Geoff Cooke in his first XV, Red Rose captain Will Carling had to do as the embodiment of English arrogance for the Scottish rugby faithful.

    In 2010, Brendan Gallagher remembered the game 20 years on in The Telegraph:

    It was a massive rugby occasion by any criteria, but doubly so when set against the backdrop of many Scots seizing the opportunity to vent a collective fury at Margaret Thatcher's hated Poll Tax. Or at least that was the perception, and in politics that is what counts. Histories are written accordingly.

    The Poll Tax – the invention of a Scot, Douglas Mason, incidentally – was being "tried out" on the Scots first. As tempers flared everything became black and white. England's rugby team, and their very pukka captain Will Carling, were portrayed as Thatcher's storm troopers.

    And so a fervent Murrayfield met Carling’s men with a wall of jeers and followed that with frenzied rapture as Scottish skipper David Sole calmly, slowly, walked his troops onto the field.

    Forget the pipers, cannon and twee soundtracks of today’s Murrayfield. This one, simple act had the home support going wild, as did their newly adopted anthem Flower of Scotland, as Gallagher recalls:

    At the end of the 1989 season even the ultra-conservative Scottish Rugby Union, with the Princess Royal as their popular patron, decided that God Save the Queen was no longer a suitable anthem for their team and supporters.

    For the 1990 Six Nations they switched Roy Williamson's folk ballad Flower of Scotland, which is dedicated to Scotland's victory at Bannockburn.

    Early penalties put the Scots ahead before Carling’s pace carved open their defence to feed Jeremy Guscott for a fine try. Craig Chalmers’ third penalty made it 9-4, before Tony Stanger pounced on Gavin Hastings’ hack to score a famous try.

    England then tried to run the legs off their hosts, but the Scottish defence held firm to win a fiercely contested Grand Slam.

3. Ireland Reach the Promised Land at Last, 2009

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    Ireland had waited 61 years for a Grand Slam and had to travel to Cardiff on the last day of the 2009 championship to seal it.

    Having gone 6-0 down at half-time, Declan Kidney’s men raced into a 14-6 lead just after half-time with tries from Tommy Bowe and Brian O’Driscoll. From there, they looked odds-on to see it safely home, until nerves struck.

    Stephen Jones chipped away at their lead with two penalties in five minutes to make it 14-12 and then dropped a goal with six minutes left on the clock that looked to have razed Irish hopes to the ground.

    But after the restart, he blundered when putting the ball straight into touch after it was passed back into his 22-metre area.

    Ireland’s forwards put Ronan O’Gara into position from the lineout and the fly-half slotted a 77th-minute drop goal.

    The drama still had one last act to play out, as Ireland coughed up a penalty on halfway from the restart, and Jones lined it up for a shot at goal.

    It fell just short, and the Grand Slam belonged to a richly deserving generation of Irish players who'd sneaked home by the tightest of margins.

4. Scotland Win After Wales Prevail at Wembley, 1999

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    The last Five Nations tournament ended in dramatic fashion at Wembley when England threw away the title in a 31-32 defeat to Wales.

    This was a home fixture for the Welsh, who had decamped to the English national stadium while their new Millennium Stadium home was going up.

    England scored three tries in a first half that saw them lead 25-18 at half-time, but their indiscipline had kept Wales in touch through the boot of Neil Jenkins.

    A try from Shane Howarth and Jenkins’ touchline conversion leveled the match after the break.

    But England regained control with two Jonny Wilkinson penalties, but skipper Lawrence Dallaglio spurned further three-point chances. He went for touch in a bid for more tries.

    His gamble backfired in the last minute when Scott Gibbs crashed over and Jenkins landed the extras to deny England.

    The Five Nations trophy, which had been dressed in England’s ribbons and placed in the royal box, was quickly taken from view.

    It was heading to Murrayfield.

    Scotland had played out an equally madcap last day in Paris where they beat France 36-22. An eye-watering eight tries were plundered in the first half-hour, five of them to the visitors.

    France could not fight their way back in the remaining 50 minutes, and Wales’ unexpected win in the North London sunshine consigned Le Bleus to the last ever Five Nations wooden spoon.