• Scrum Sevens

The Replacements

ESPNscrum Staff
April 14, 2011
Mike Gibson became the first replacement in 1968, while on tour with the Lions © Getty Images

Toulouse flanker Yannick Nyanga bagged the winning try and Man of the Match award in their Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Biarritz last weekend, having appeared as a substitute for the injured Sylvain Nicolas. We've compiled a list of a few more influential replacements from club and international rugby in Scrum Sevens.

Mike Gibson - South Africa 25-20 British & Irish Lions, 1968

The legendary Irish centre's sole Test appearance as a replacement may be the most significant of them all, mainly because it was the first. Prior to this, injured players were not replaced, leaving teams to deal with a numerical disadvantage. In the opening Test of the Lions' series against the Springboks, which they would lose 3-0 with one match drawn, Gibson was summoned from the bench to replace the injured Barry John, who had broken his collarbone. Despite the kicking efforts of tour skipper Tom Kiernan and a try to Willie John McBride the Lions fell short of their hosts, but Gibson would complete a remarkable feat of endurance to close the tour, playing in 11 of the final 13 matches due to John's absence.

Jonathan Sexton - Leinster 25-6 Munster, Heineken Cup semi-final, 2009

When Argentinain playmaker Felipe Contepomi hit the deck with a serious knee injury 25 minutes into Leinster's Heineken Cup semi-final showdown with arch-rivals Munster in 2009, a fair few fans would have held their head in their hands. The scores were level at 3-3 and the reigning champions would surely make Leinster, those perennial underachievers, pay. Only they didn't, thanks in part to Contepomi's replacement, Jonny Sexton. His 65 minute 'cameo' began with a nerveless long range penalty and saw him preside over a thrilling victory in which Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy and Luke Fitzgerald bagged tries. Sexton subsequently started the final and ousted Ronan O'Gara from the Ireland No.10 jersey, dragging his promising career up off the canvas.

Ray 'Chico' Hopkins - England 13-17 Wales, Five Nations, 1970

'Chico' Hopkins holds two Test caps, one for Wales and one for the 1971 British & Irish Lions, both of them as a replacement for the legendary Gareth Edwards. At Twickenham in 1970 the Maesteg scrum-half helped to inspire a turnaround for Wales, who trailed 13-6 at his introduction, England having scored through the mercurial David Duckham and Mike Novak. Hopkins created a try for fullback JPR Williams and later scored himself to complete the comeback. "England threw a long throw-in, and it bounced up and over Dai Morris and - here's fate again - into me behind him," he recalled. "All I had to do to score was just dive over. Gareth and JPR had missed some kicks but JPR put over the conversion, a great kick. That made it 14-13 to us, and Barry finished it with a drop goal. Tough front-row boys like Denzil Williams and Jeff Young were coming off crying, it was such an emotional game. Just meant to happen. Though if everyone I've spoken to since who said they were there really had been there, the rest of the planet would have been empty."

Adam Jones played a crucial role from the bench © Getty Images
Adam Jones - South Africa 26-21 British & Irish Lions, 2009

It was painful to watch Phil Vickery's illustrious Test career apparently come to a grinding halt at the hands of South Africa's Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira in the Lions' first Test defeat in 2009, but the introduction of Wales' Adam Jones to shore up the scrum late in the piece represented a redemptive moment for the shaggy-haired prop. In his early career Jones was accustomed to the replacements' bench, often being withdrawn on the half-hour coach by the Wales coach Steve Hansen. His exertions in Durban, where he stemmed the flow of penalties against the Lions and set the platform for a briefly-threatened comeback, marked him out as a practitioner of the highest quality at elite level, something that he would back up with a dominant display in the second Test before a dislocated shoulder ended his match, and tour, early.

George Smith - Wales 12-33 Australia, 2009

The last of Smith's 110 caps for Australia came off the bench in Cardiff, where he played the second-half of a crushing win over Wales following an injury to David Pocock. In the opening period Pocock had terrorised the hosts, dominating the breakdown and crashing over for one of three tries in what rapidly became a rout. The Wallabies were hurting after a shock 9-8 loss at Murrayfield the previous week but any thought that the sting would go out of their attack with the loss of Pocock was washed away by a stunning 40 minutes from his veteran replacement. In an evening that quickly became an audience with Messrs frying pan and fire, Wales had no answer for his skill over the ball and Matt Giteau was given a platform from which he punished James Hook, played out of position at fullback. For the new guard of Wallabies, Kurtley Beale made his bow off the bench, this was a watershed win, but they would have tipped their caps to an elder statesman at the final whistle.

Shane Geraghty - England 26-18 France, Six Nations, 2007

This one seems like a long time ago. Geraghty's recent form for Northampton has been nothing to write home about, with the spark that characterised his early years in the Premiership seemingly flattened by expectation. His England debut was also one to savour, coming off the bench against France in 2007. The French, visitors to Twickenham, were out to keep their hopes of a Grand Slam alive but Brian Ashton's stodgy England, who had lost out to Ireland in the previous round, had a trick up their sleeve. Geraghty was introduced for the injured Toby Flood and settled his early nerves with a penalty, before carving up the French midfield defence with a sparkling kick-return. His pass found Mike Tindall and the celebrations began. The world appeared to be at his feet but, while he is only 24, it hasn't turned out that way just yet.

Dan Hipkiss - Leicester 33-27 Saracens, Premiership final, 2010

Saracens, in their first season as a revamped Premiership contender, were four minutes away from victory in the 2010 final before Leicester centre Dan Hipkiss had his say in proceedings. The former England midfielder was introduced into to fray for Matt Smith after 72 minutes of an absorbing contest, where fly-halves Toby Flood and Glen Jackson had gone hammer and tongs either side of a brace from Ernst Joubert and Leicester scores from Smith and Ben Youngs. Jackson had given Sarries a one-point lead heading into the final moments but was culpable as he and Justin Marshall somehow conspired to allow Hipkiss to burst away from a maul on the 22 to score. In terms of economy this one is hard to beat: eight minutes, one try and the title.

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