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Greatest Matches: Ireland

Greatest Matches: Ireland

Two Grand Slams, four Championship titles and five Triple Crowns – it’s quite the trophy haul that Ireland have accumulated since the Five Nations became Six in 2000.

During that time, they have taken part in some all-time classic matches in the Guinness Six Nations.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to relive five of the best.

France 25-27 Ireland (2000)

The start of a new era. As the inaugural Six Nations got underway, a young man by the name of Brian O’Driscoll announced himself on the international stage with a virtuoso display at the Stade de France.

At just 21 years of age, the outside centre helped himself to a hat-trick of tries to propel Ireland to a first win in Paris since 1972. And thus, a legend was born.

Diving over from close range for his first try, the Dubliner the scythed through the France defence for his second before completing the treble with an iconic score – scooping a loose ball from around his shoelaces and darting through a gap

It wasn’t just the performance of O’Driscoll that makes this match so remarkable but it was a beginning of a new period for Irish rugby after an underwhelming World Cup performance the year before.

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Alongside O’Driscoll that day were the likes of Peter Stringer, Ronan O’Gara and Simon Easterby, also in the infancy of their international careers. The quartet went on to earn 524 caps between them.

Ireland 43-13 England (2007)

In 2004, Ireland handed reigning world champions England a first home loss in five years by winning at Twickenham, yet three years later in Dublin they recorded perhaps an even more impressive victory.

With Lansdowne Road having been demolished to make way for the new Aviva Stadium, the famous old Croke Park was Ireland’s temporary home and England geared up to visit for the first time in the 2007 Championship.

It would prove to be an unhappy hunting ground for the Red Rose, who not only suffered a heavy defeat on their maiden trip but succumbed to a narrow 14-13 loss two years later in their only other contest at the ground.

The fact England were heading to Croke Park for the first time made the 2007 contest historic enough, yet Brian Ashton’s men made further, unwanted, history by conceding 42 points – a record number for an English side in 124 years of Championship rugby.

Some exquisite interplay between Ronan O’Gara, Gordon D’Arcy, Brian O’Driscoll and Shane Horgan left the visitors flat-footed time and again as Girvan Dempsey, David Wallace and O’Gara’s boot established a 23-3 half-time lead.

Ireland didn’t let up after the break as Horgan and Isaac Boss dotted down, while O’Gara was metronomic from the tee and England were outmuscled up front, leading to Ashton to describe the post-match dressing room as “like being in a mortuary.”

Wales 15-17 Ireland (2009)

“Drop at goal. Grand Slam at stake. HE’S GOT IT!”

It had been 61 years since Ireland won a Grand Slam, until Ronan O’Gara’s drop goal took them over line in dramatic circumstances and led to that spine-tingling piece of commentary.

In a lively affair in Cardiff, Ireland trailed Wales 6-0 at half-time thanks to a pair of Stephen Jones penalties but sprung into life in the second period through tries from Brian O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe – the latter coming when Bowe collected O’Gara’s chip and raced away from Shane Williams.

However, Wales fly-half Jones appeared to snatch history out of Ireland’s hands as he slotted over two penalties to take his side close to a Triple Crown title.

With just over two minutes remaining and one point behind, O’Gara stepped up to deliver a drop goal for the ages, sending the Irish fans who had travelled to Cardiff wild. But it still wasn’t over…

Jones had another opportunity to break Irish hearts but his last-gasp penalty fell agonisingly short and Ireland finally tasted Grand Slam glory after a lifetime of hurt.

France 20-22 Ireland (2014)

In Joe Schmidt’s first Championship as head coach, the New Zealander helped Ireland to a first Six Nations title in five years – sealed in Paris.

In what was Brian O’Driscoll’s farewell game for Ireland, he and his team pulled off a Herculean defensive effort to beat France 22-20.

On Super Saturday, Ireland knew that anything short of a win would result in England snatching the Championship, after they beat Italy earlier in the day, but it wasn’t going to be easy.

Since their spectacular win in 2000 that announced O’Driscoll’s arrival on the international scene, they had failed to beat France in Paris. They had it all to do.

Two tries and seven further points from the tee by fly-half Johnny Sexton, as well as an Andrew Trimble score, saw Ireland leading 22-20 with 15 minutes left.

From there, the visitors had to withstand a constant barrage of French pressure as they continued to batten down the hatches. And despite a number of close calls, they managed to hold on.

It was fitting that, 14 years on from announcing himself as a bona fide star at the Stade de France, BOD rode away into the Parisian sunset with the Championship trophy in tow.

England 15-24 Ireland (2018)

A Grand Slam decider. The Class of 2018 had the chance to become just the third Ireland side in Championship history to win a Grand Slam title.

The challenge was steep: England had not lost their previous 14 games at Twickenham heading into the fixture.

With the Championship title already in the bag, Ireland came flying out of the blocks and stunned the Twickenham crowd into silence through first-half tries from Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander and Jacob Stockdale to lead 21-5 at the break.

Despite a late England comeback, Ireland stood firm and made it a St. Patrick’s Day to remember for their supporters.

And while Ireland’s win over England was the cherry on top of the Grand Slam cake, arguably just as important was Johnny Sexton’s late drop goal four games earlier to down France in Paris.