2001 Six Nations
Three strikes and England's out
Brian Lowe
October 25, 2001
England's Austin Healey dives for the line under pressure from Peter Stringer and David Wallace, Ireland v England, Six Nations, Lansdowne Road, October 20 2001.
Austin Healey scores against Ireland but proved to be in vain ©
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Three strikes and you're out. Former US president Bill Clinton coined that phrase during his time in the White House when he got tough on criminals who 'd offended three times. Perhaps it now also rings true for England in the wake of the loss to Ireland in the 2001 Six Nations finale.

Three times in a row England has had a chance to claim the coveted Grand Slam and three times in a row Clive Woodward's men have faltered at the last hurdle.

In America that would be enough to earn a team the tag of 'chokers'. There've been teams and individual sportsmen who've been labelled chokers because they repeatedly stumbled at the last obstacle.

The team with the unenviable distinction of being the most notorious of them all would be the Buffalo Bills NFL team which is 0-4 in its chase for American football's prized Superbowl. The big joke about the Bills is that because of their repeated failures Buffalo's area code was changed to 0-4-4.

In baseball, the Atlanta Braves have spent tons of money on player talent over the years yet they've managed to win just one World Series, and that was back in the mid-90s, despite consistently finishing at or near the top of the National League year after year.

Golfer Greg Norman, rightly or wrongly, also wore that tag for a while because he just couldn't crack it when he got into playoff situations in major tournaments. And what about that Russian bombshell Anna Kournikova? She has all sorts of promise, but rarely makes it past the quarter-finals of anything.

Now rugby appears to have produced its own version. And again rightly or not, England has seemingly done enough to earn itself the choker tag.

However, it should be said in England's defence that it wasn't that they totally sucked against Ireland, it was more a case of the Irish being a lot hungrier for the 'W'. And to be completely fair, England was also missing some of its star players like Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio, but one wonders if they would've made much of a difference to the final score anyway even if they'd played.

England had already wrapped up the Six Nations championship long before a ball was even kicked at Lansdowne Road, so it wasn't exactly a do-or-die situation for either team, but pride and bragging rights were on the line, not to mention England's record run of victories.

I wouldn't go as far as Australian coach Eddie Jones has by saying that despite the loss, England is still the best team in the world. I think the reality is that England is number two or three, but if they knock off the Wallabies next month then they could legitimately claim to be the world's best.

Sport is a funny thing isn't it, it doesn't matter if you've had a string of successes before a particular game, if you happen to lose that one match you 're a choker.

You know what though, whether England won or lost wasn't really that big of a deal, although the Grand Slam sure would've been icing on the cake baby.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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