In the latest of our series looking back at classic encounters in Rugby’s Greatest Championship, this week we’re remembering a record-breaking weekend as England hosted France in 2015.
In a day that would soon go on to be recognised as Super Saturday, the climax to the 2015 Championship was about as brilliant a piece of drama as sport is capable of delivering.
Old pugilists England and France notched up 90 points at Twickenham but with an astonishing 27 tries scored across the Championship on the same day, the climax in 2015 was about so much more than one game.
SETTING THE SCENE
It is an often forgotten fact that – for the first time in the history of the Championship – four sides came into the final day with a chance of claiming the 2015 title.
France’s claim was admittedly a long shot – they needed both Wales (who faced Italy) and Ireland (who travelled to Scotland) to lose and to then give England a thumping the likes of which they had never before achieved on English soil.
Wales meanwhile had come storming back into the Championship after their opening-night loss to England.
In Rome, with a 25-point deficit to England and a 21-point gap to Ireland, Warren Gatland’s side would need to run riot to secure the title and promptly obliged – eight tries scored in a 61-20 victory.
Next up Super Saturday moved on to Edinburgh, where Joe Schmidt’s Ireland now knew that only a 20-point margin of victory would be enough to overtake the Welsh.
Early scores for Paul O’Connell – a collector’s item indeed – and Sean O’Brien, settled the Irish nerves.
At half-time Ireland only led 20-10 but they turned on the style after the break to score 20 more unanswered points and eventually won 40-10.
Now attentions turned to Twickenham and England’s hopes of finally sealing the crown under Stuart Lancaster (England had finished second for the three years previous), with supporters all around Europe chewing their fingernails off in the knowledge that a 26-point swing would see England claim the Championship.
England had won the last eight matches at Twickenham in the Championship since Wales beat them there in 2012 and Lancaster made two changes to his squad from the 25-13 Calcutta Cup victory a week previous.
Geoff Parling started in the second row while Nick Easter took a place up on the bench, meaning Dave Attwood dropped out of the matchday 23.
France meanwhile had to deal with a couple of injury-enforced changes, Jules Plisson coming in at fly-half while Vincent Debaty took over at loosehead prop.
History was not on France’s side, with Les Bleus having not won successive away games in the Championship in the same season since 2010.
“We won’t be favourites, but we can win,” France head coach Philippe Saint-Andre said. “We are going there with a positive pressure on us. There is very little difference between the teams in this tournament.”
HOW THE ACTION UNFOLDED
Rattling their rivals from the off was clearly the gameplan for England and when scrum-half Sébastien Tillous-Borde was caught napping, Jonathan Joseph surged clear and Ben Youngs’ dancing feet took him across the line for a second-minute try that George Ford converted.
It was a blood and thunder opening with no quarter asked or given and that usually means mistakes. When England lost control of a ruck, Tillous-Borde seized on an errant pass by Youngs and raced the length of the field to score unopposed.
France’s Noa Nakaitaci touched down minutes later but Courtney Lawes’ crunching tackle on Plisson then woke Twickenham up and Anthony Watson crashed over in the corner not long after.
Youngs and Joseph combined for England’s third try but in an end-to-end match, Maxime Mermoz responded after the restart, George Ford firing back another five-pointer four-minutes later.
Jack Nowell’s converted score put England to within a converted score and a penalty of their pre-match target but the tries kept flowing, Vincent Debaty for France, Billy Vunipola for England and then Benjamin Kayser for Les Bleus.
Nowell scored again to take England across the 50-point barrier for the first time ever against France – which left them just a converted score short of their target with five minutes left.
Twickenham was now alive as the hosts camped on the French line, all Lancaster’s side needed was one more converted try, but it wouldn’t come and Ireland were left to celebrate one of the most nerve-wracking titles in history.
WHAT THEY SAID
Ireland hooker and captain Rory Best commented: “When you retire and look back it will be one of the fondest memories that you have going out.
“The SRU keeping so many supporters, allowing them to come back into the stadium (BT Murrayfield) to greet us, it was unbelievable, the atmosphere there with the lights going black.
“We walked out and it seemed like there were people everywhere so to lift the trophy in that was amazing.”
England head coach Stuart Lancaster: “It’s one of the most courageous performances I’ve ever seen, to go down like we did and show the character to come back, it was an unbelievable game of rugby.”
England 55 Tries: Youngs (2), Watson, Ford, Nowell (2), B Vunipola Cons: Ford (7) Pens: Ford (2)
France 35 Tries: Tillous-Borde, Nakaitaci, Mermoz, Debaty, Kayser Cons: Plisson (2) Pens: Plisson, Kockott England: Brown, Watson, Joseph, Burrell, Nowell, Ford, B. Youngs, Marler, Hartley, Cole, Parling, Lawes, Haskell, Robshaw, B. Vunipola. Replacements: Cipriani, Twelvetrees, Wigglesworth, M. Vunipola, T. Youngs, Brookes, Easter, Wood.
France: Spedding, Huget, Fickou, Mermoz, Nakaitaci, Plisson, Tillous-Borde, Debaty, Guirado, Mas, Flanquart, Maestri, Dusautoir, Le Roux, Goujon. Replacements: Bastareaud, Tales, Kockott, Kayser, Atonio, Chouly, Slimani, Taofifenua
Attendance: 82,319 Referee: Nigel Owens