“It should’ve been my favourite moment tackling him, it was good because he was a tough man and he was fast.”
Tommy Bowe may have said it with a smile on his face, but in many ways his tackle on Thom Evans just metres from the Murrayfield try-line in 2009 changed the course of rugby history.
After scrapping their way to a 22-15 victory in that match in Edinburgh, Bowe and his Irish side went to another cacophonic colosseum in the shape of the then-Millennium Stadium, where they secured their first Championship Grand Slam for 61 years.
It was anything but a smooth journey to the title though, as they had to rely on a late penalty from the Stephen Jones falling short of the posts – just moments after Ronan O’Gara had nailed a decisive drop goal – to help see them over the line. As finales to Championships go, it was one of the most memorable in recent history.
“We’d beaten England, we’d beaten France, we had to go to Scotland to win that game, it was pretty close right through the game but that match in Wales in front of so many fans in the Millennium Stadium was something else,” Bowe said.
“The O’Gara drop goal at the end of the game, then Stephen Jones missing a penalty in the final minute, it had everything that game, to be a part of it and to have scored in it was a real incredible day
“I couldn’t look, you put so much into it. To have won a Six Nations would’ve been huge but to have lost a Grand Slam at the death would’ve been heart-breaking.
“Stephen Jones had kicked a kick from a similar distance earlier in the game, it was right in front of the posts, we had pretty much resigned to the fact he was going to kick it and it was game over. But you just got a sense when he hit it that it just seemed to drop and drop.
“It was the first real trophy that I had won, so it was a memorable occasion. Even the Welsh fans were brilliant that day as well, they applauded what a fantastic game it was and were happy for us.”
Brothers in arms
That same year was a momentous one for Evans, who with Bowe hosted the first of the Guinness Six Nations cultural experiences before the clash of their respective countries last weekend, where the pair accompanied a group on a scenic hike of Howth Head, while enjoying a pint of the black stuff and fish and chips in a local afterwards.
2009 saw Evans make his first ever appearance in the competition, with brother Max for company, in the starting line-up against France in Paris.
Not that he let the occasion get to him, as he grabbed himself a try in the dying stages to set up a grandstand finish at Stade de France.
“My mum and dad had flown over from Portugal to watch the game and I think it’s every player’s dream to play for your country,” the winger reminisces.
“To have my first start with my brother Max will be a memory I will never forget, because it was something we had spoken about our whole lives, but to be in the stadium living it like that was a hair on the back of the neck moment for sure.
“There was a chance that we could come into our own and offer something different to a Scottish backline that at the time didn’t quite have the firepower.
“As a professional rugby player you take every game the same, but there was no denying that the scale of a match and with it being something that we had worked our whole lives to play it was a moment that I will certainly never forget.”
They may have been on rival sides both domestically and internationally throughout their careers, but there is one thing that the two men can agree on.
You can play home and away across the continent during the Championship, but there is one place that stands out above the rest, no matter who you play for.
“I have to say the Aviva Stadium is my favourite, but away from home there is no stadium like Principality Stadium in Cardiff,” Bowe said.
“To play in Wales, particularly when the roof is closed, when you walk out onto the pitch, the fireworks, it’s just an incredible atmosphere.
“There’s something about the Guinness Six Nations, it’s probably the best rugby competition in the world, it’s so competitive. Any match can throw up all sorts of different results and performances.”
And Evans is no different: “I have to agree with Tommy, playing at Murrayfield was amazing and Scottish fans always got behind us, but there’s something about Principality Stadium.
“I think all the Welsh can sing so you can really hear the voices echoing around the stadium, for me when I started my international career that was the one stadium I always wanted to get the chance to play at.”
Friends or foes
Playing on the wing, both Bowe and Evans have come up against plenty of tricky customers in their time, but we all have those players that you know will cause you problems, and the pair are no different.
For Evans, there are two men that stick out as titans of the Six Nations era of the Championship, with one being the man sat opposite him.
“Tommy was always a man I loved playing against because he was an incredible player and in any sport if you play someone of that calibre you always raise your game,” Evans admits.
“In terms of presence on the field I would say Brian O’Driscoll, you could just hear him everywhere, organising, calling plays, lifting the team, especially that 2009 encounter with Ireland I could just hear him everywhere.
“Tommy stopped me in the corner and I popped it off to Phil Godman, Brian was miles away but he’s run 100 metres and smashed Phil out of play.”
Bowe added: “I used to really hate coming up against Shane Williams and Aurélien Rougerie.
“Rougerie was a monster of a man who could go round you or just run over the top of you, and Williams was a 5’5 flying machine that could go inside you or outside you, over the top or under your legs, you always had to defend him in numbers.”