Scrum Sevens
Crunch time
Tom Hamilton
September 20, 2012
England's Josh Lewsey dives to the rescue to shackle South Africa's Jean de Villiers during their clash at Twickenham in 2006 © PA Photos

There is nothing quite like a great tackle to lift a game and a crowd to its feet. The latest high-profile example of such a game-changing show of force was Adam Ashley-Cooper's incredible double tackle on Lwazi Mvovo and then Jean de Villiers during Australia's recent Rugby Championship victory over South Africa in Perth.

That stroke of genius got us thinking in the ESPN offices - what are the best try-saving or game-changing tackles we've seen in the past few years? There are literally hundreds of options but we've drawn up a shortlist here for the latest edition of Scrum Sevens.

South Africa's J.P Pietersen on Fiji's Ifereimi Rawaqa, 2007

The Springboks had breezed through their group at the 2007 Rugby World Cup with a memorable 36-0 win over England underlining their title credentials. In the quarter-finals they came up against a formidable Fijian outfit who had already shocked Wales on their way to the knock-out stages.They played out a ferocious contest that was eventually won 37-20 by the Boks but there were just three points in it after 65 minutes when JP Pietersen produced a crucial tackle to thwart Ifereimi Rawaqa's attempts to breach the try line.

Australia's George Gregan on New Zealand's Jeff Wilson, 1994

It has gone down in rugby folklore as 'that George Gregan tackle'. The Wallabies were winning 20-16 with full-time approaching but Wilson was put away by Shane Howarth. Gregan, in only the fourth outing of what would go on to be a record 139 Test-cap career, scampered back and somehow managed to knock the ball from Wilson's grasp.

England's Josh Lewsey on South Africa's Jean de Villiers, 2006

England coach Andy Robinson was a man under pressure as his side embarked on their end-of-year campaign in 2006 having been smashed on their tour of Australia earlier that year. Things went from bad to worse with defeat against New Zealand and then a more shocking reverse at the hands of Argentina. Back-to-back games against a South Africa side that would win the World Cup the following year, offered Robinson and his side a shot at redemption.

England rallied in front of the Twickenham faithful with Josh Lewsey's stunning tackle on Jean de Villiers inspiring his side to a morale-boosting 23-21 victory. But it proved to be in vein though with England losing the following week and Robinson resigning soon after.

Toulouse's Vincent Clerc on Castres' Max Evans, 2012

Toulouse made it back-to-back Top 14 titles with victory over Toulon in the Stade de France finale earlier this year but it could have been so different if it were not for an incredible tackle from veteran flyer Vincent Clerc in their semi-final clash with Castres. Toulouse were 12-9 ahead but were holding on with Florian Fritz in the sin- bin. In the 36th minute, Castres seized on some loose ball and went rampaging towards their rivals' line. Scotland centre Max Evans looked certain to score but he did not bank on Clerc tracking back and pulling off a superb try-saving tackle. It proved to be a key moment in the match with Toulouse eventually taking the semi-final 24-15 and then going on to edge out Toulon in the final.

England's Jonny Wilkinson on France's Emile Ntamack, 2000

A relatively fresh-faced Jonny Wilkinson was handed the keys to the No.10 shirt for England's trip to the Stade de France in 2000. The playmaker's ability with the boot was already clear but few knew that he could also pack an equally formidable punch in the tackle. Ntamack, standing at five inches taller and three stones heavier than Wilkinson, was charging through the English defence only to find a diminutive but gutsy fly-half in his way. England won 15-9 and went on to lift the inaugural Six Nations title.

Wasps' Tom Varndell on Bath's Sam Vesty, 2012

It was the penultimate round of the Premiership season with underachievers Bath facing relegation-threatened Wasps at The Rec. The visitors had endured a torrid season with off-field uncertainty and injuries forcing them into the relegation zone. Going into the match Wasps were three points ahead of basement side Newcastle with a game in hand. The last match of the season, as fate would have it, would be between the strugglers at Adams Park and so Wasps needed at least a bonus point from their final two matches to retain their top-flight status.

And it looked like they had secured that against Bath with the home side leading 17-12 going into the final moments of the match. But then Sam Vesty collected the ball after a solid run from Josh Ovens and ran towards the posts. From out of nowhere, Varndell tracked back and prevented the try meaning Wasps had taken a major step towards safety. Wasps would lose their relegation battle with the Falcons but won the war thanks to that one single point.

Australia's Lote Tuqiri on New Zealand's Mils Muliaina, 2003

The stage was set for the eagerly-awaited 2003 World Cup semi-final of between old foes Australia and New Zealand. The All Blacks were favourites going into the clash but the home support was rallying behind Wallabies and belief was growing. The All Blacks started the better and when Mils Muliaina dived over the line in only the seventh minute it looked like the Kiwis had stolen what could have been a decisive early advantage. would hold an early advantage. But replays showed that Wallabies winger Lote Tuqiri had pulled off a superb tackle to keep his try line intact. The Wallabies did not look back and went on to claim a 22-10 victory.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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