Clash of the Titans
November 25, 2009
Damien Traille and Thierry Dusautoir celebrate victory over the All Blacks in 2007 © Getty Images
The Tri-Nations holders, South Africa, roll up to Croke Park on Saturday to face Ireland, reigning Six Nations Grand Slam champions. The 'clash of the champions', 'unofficial world championship', whatever you want to call it, it's north v south with all of the bragging rights that go along with it.
The Boks saw off the British & Irish Lions in a thrilling three Test series over the summer, a defeat that will be fresh in the memory for many of Ireland's senior players. As the excitement builds, we take a look back at some of the greatest meetings between the holders of the coveted northern hemisphere crown and the kings of the southern hemisphere.
Wales 3-41 New Zealand, Millennium Stadium, 2005
In March 2005 Wales ended one of several hoodoos that had plagued them throughout the lean years of the 1980s and 1990s, winning their first Grand Slam since Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett et al picked up top prize way back in 1978. Finally having some new heroes to eulogise about reinvigorated the game in Wales but following the catastrophic 2005 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand there was only faint hope as the All Blacks kicked off their Grand Slam tour attempt in Cardiff.
Graham Henry's men picked up the Tri-Nations title after a to and fro battle with reigning champions South Africa and arrived in the north brimming with confidence. On paper there was little for them to fear as injuries ruled out crucial cogs from the Welsh Grand Slam machine, with openisde Martyn Williams, scrum-half Dwayne Peel, centres Gavin Henson and Tom Shanklin, prop Gethin Jenkins and No.8 Ryan Jones all ruled out by injury. There proved to be little for them to fear on the field also, as wing Rico Gear bagged a hat-trick and Dan Carter 26 points in a win that can only be described as a canter.
Scotland 18-30 New Zealand, Rugby World Cup, Murrayfield, 1999
Heading in to the Rugby World Cup, Scotland sprung a huge surprise by pipping England to the final Five Nations title before Italy's inclusion, with Scott Gibbs' famous try at Wembley rounding off a thrilling tournament. The All Blacks fought tooth and nail with the Wallabies in the Tri-Nations, but eventually prevailed by a two-point margin.
Chance threw the teams together in the quarter-final of the World Cup, where Murrayfield was buffeted by rain and wind and Cameron Murray was buffeted by Jonah Lomu. The Scottish wing did an admirable job of containing the All Blacks' express-train, but was powerless to stop the big man taking him on the outside for the victory-clinching try. Murray popped up to secure a deserved consolation for the Scots, who were roundly applauded from the field, but a first half burst of tries from Tana Umaga and Jeff Wilson had set the seal on the win early on.
England 22-19 Australia, Twickenham, 2000
The Wallabies arrived at Twickenham having added their first Tri-Nations title to their trophy cabinet, where it nestled alongside the 1999 Rugby World Cup. They faced and England side that had been denied a Grand Slam by 19 points from Scotland fly-half Duncan Hodge in April.
Australia's Mr. Consistent, Matt Burke, had chipped in with all of their points at a Twickenham rapidly retreating into evening gloom. Jonny Wilkinson's boot had kept England within striking distance at 19-15 and a superb finish by wing Dan Luger, sliding across the in-goal area and plucking a bouncing ball from the air to score, secured the spoils for the Six Nations champions.
France 20-20 New Zealand, Stade de France, 2002
As the 2003 Rugby World Cup loomed in to view, France struck a blow against England in the 2002 Six Nations with a 20-15 victory setting up the Grand Slam that had eluded the red rose brigade in 2000 and 2001. New Zealand had wrestled the Tri-Nations trophy back from John Eales and the Wallabies thanks to a last-gasp intervention from the Springboks, who beat Australia 33-31 in the final game.
November brought the All Blacks to the Stade de France for an ill-tempered and dramatic affair. Bernard Laporte's men, who had already dispatched the Springboks, thought they had scored from the kick-off through Fabien Galthie only for his effort to be chalked off for a deliberate knock-on. However, the tone for the game was set, with France marauding all over the All Blacks but unable to finish their opportunities. New Zealand weathered the storm and yellow cards for fullback Christian Cullen, centre Mark Robinson and prop Kees Meeuws to remain in the contest. But in the end they had to be grateful for the mis-firing boot of France fly-half Francois Gelez who missed four penalties, including two efforts late in the game, in order to escape.
Wales 9-29 New Zealand, Millennium Stadium, 2008
With a Kiwi coach and a second Grand Slam in four seasons under their belt, 2008 was the year that Wales believed they could end their 55 year wait for victory over the All Blacks, who had added yet another Tri-Nations title to their swag before embarking on another Grand Slam tour.
As it is, this game will forever be remembered for the bristling tension created by Wales' refusal to back away from the haka, standing their ground as the capacity crowd roared their approval. Wales came out of the traps in the first-half, and lead 9-6 at the break. They committed the cardinal sin as the All Blacks upped the tempo in the second-half, allowing Dan Carter to build a lead from the kicking tee. Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino scored tries to secure a flattering, but deserved win for the tourists.
England 21-15 Australia, Twickenham, 2001
A month after Keith Wood and Ireland had exposed England's seeming inability to close out a Grand Slam with a 20-14 victory in Dublin, Clive Woodward's men welcomed the Wallabies to Twickenham. The Wallabies were beginning life without John Eales, who had retired after retaining the Tri-Nations and winning a series against Martin Johnson's British & Irish Lions.
As with many games of this vintage, the simple mechanics of Jonny Wilkinson's swinging left boot decided the outcome. Wilkinson slotted five penalties and two drop-goals to eclipse tries from Phil Waugh and Matt Burke, continuing their dominance over the Wallabies that would extend through to 2004 and encompass the 2003 Rugby World Cup final.
France 20-18 New Zealand, Rugby World Cup, Millennium Stadium, 2007
The second entry on this list from a World Cup is the stuff of nightmares for Kiwis. The key points are frequently rolled out; there were no penalties against France in the second-half, Thierry Dusautoir topped 30 tackles, McAlister shouldn't have been binned and of course, the pass was forward.
English referee Wayne Barnes was the villain of the piece for the All Blacks, allowing Yannick Jauzion's winning try despite a forward pass in the build-up. The pre-tournament favourites were out at the quarter-final stage again, with the Six Nations champions and hosts through to face their fiercest rivals, England, in the semi-final.