The bitterest pill
February 18, 2010
Jason Robinson and Jason Leonard show their disappointment at defeat to Ireland in 2001 © Getty Images
Ireland's defeat to France in Paris last weekend spelled the end of their bid for back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slams and also sounded the death knell of a winning streak that stretched back to November 2008. So, in the spirit of all this doom and gloom we decided to dredge up Championship disappointments past in our latest Scrum Seven.
Ireland 20-14 England, Six Nations, Lansdowne Road, 2001
One of the most unwanted hat-tricks in the history of the sport was completed by England in 2001. With their final Six Nations fixture against Ireland postponed until October due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, England had a long wait for their Grand Slam decider against Ireland in Dublin.
Clive Woodward's men had fallen at the final hurdle to Scott Gibbs and Wales in 1999 and Andy Nicol's Scotland in 2000, giving them an unwanted tag as chokers despite their dominance. With Lansdowne Road fit to burst, Irish skipper Keith Wood scored the decisive try to dash English hopes and finish level on points with their old foes, only to be denied by points difference. Still, the image of the England players' sullen faces with the trophy told the full story.
Home Nations Championship, 1897 & 1898
Politics and sport is, at the best of times, a complicated mix. In 1897 Wales' legendary centre Arthur Gould received a testimonial payment from fans after years of distinguished service. The RFU complained to the sport's governing body, the IRFB, and Wales promptly withdrew their subscription.
Later, strengthened by the feeling that the WFU had bowed to English pressure, Wales took their ball and went home, withdrawing from internationals until 1898, wrecking two Championships in the process. It was a spiteful period of anger and recrimination and it's hard to think of the positives garnered by those on either side of the argument.
England 47-13 Wales, Six Nations, Twickenham, 2006
Wales' 2005 Grand Slam was a joyous surprise, their first since 1978 and their vintage generation. Their follow-up was less of a surprise, but all the more galling for it. A spate of injuries had seen them hammered by the All Blacks in November and it was a similarly threadbare line-up that rolled in to Twickenham to kick-off their title defence.
The champions were no match for an England side far from their best, leaking tries like a sieve in midfield and being chewed up in the tight. Wales returned to the doldrums as quickly as they had scaled the heights, and only 10 days after that bastion of Englishness, Lawrence Dallaglio, had stem rolled Stephen Jones for a try, coach Mike Ruddock was gone amid claims of a player revolt and two fifth placed Six Nations finishes followed before an ignominious exit from the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Ireland, Five Nations, 1972
Ireland's 2009 Grand Slam was a cathartic release for a squad and also a country, who hadn't tasted the Championship's ultimate prize since Jackie Kyle, Karl Mullen and the class of 1948. Still, it could have been different.
In 1972 Ireland sat handily placed in the Five Nations table, having beaten France in Paris and England at Twickenham. Wales and Scotland, however, would not travel to Dublin to complete the fixtures due to the Troubles, which had continued with 'Bloody Sunday' in January. France returned to Ireland to play a friendly, losing for the second time in quick succession, while England received a standing ovation for honouring their fixture. Ireland were left stranded in an uncompleted calendar, a small postscript to the violence that claimed 496 lives during 1972 alone.
England 15-8 Wales, Five Nations, 1994
Wales, abysmal for the majority of the 1980s and 1990s, had one golden opportunity to end their long wait for a Grand Slam prior to the class of 2005. In 1994 they produced a brilliant, Scott Quinnell-inspired win over France, beat Ireland away and thumped Scotland. The final piece of their Grand Slam puzzle was to be sought at Twickenham.
Unsurprisingly, England were none too keen to help out their mates from across the Severn and had Championship aspirations of their own. Rory Underwood and Tim Rodber scored the tries that ended the Welsh Grand Slam team, Wales winning the title with the slimmest, most unsatisfactory of points difference victories.
Italy 24-51 Ireland, Six Nations, 2007
A tale of two last-minute tries, Ireland fell four points short of the title in 2007. On the final day, the Irish had a simple brief, beat Italy by as many points as possible to set France as large a total as possible to win the title in their game against Scotland.
With seconds left on the clock in Rome Ireland led by 34 points, but refused to kick the ball out and end the game, instead going in search of another try. It arrived, but at their end, where fullback Roland de Marigny had forced his way over to allow Andrea Scanavacca to slot the conversion. France required a 23-point win over the Scots. Trailing the figure by three points, replacement Elvis Vermeulen burrowed over and with the help of an Irish TMO won the title on points difference.
Five Nations, 1973
A great year for England, who won the Five Nations title. Also for Ireland, who won the Five Nations title. Scotland, meanwhile, celebrated winning the Five Nations title. And they were dancing in the streets of Cardiff and Paris as Wales and France celebrated the Five Nations title.
No bragging rights, no one-upmanship. Everyone won. Each side won their two home games and lost away, leaving the five countries locked together on four points. With no further tie-breaking measures applied, points difference would have seen Wales win and England take the Wooden Spoon, everyone had to make do with their lot.