Gordon D’Arcy will forever occupy his own little nook in Guinness Six Nations history as the winner of the inaugural Player of the Championship award.
The Ireland centre took the prize in 2004 after inspiring his country to the Triple Crown for the first time since 1985 as Grand Slam-winning France claimed the Championship title.
Forming a formidable midfield partnership with Brian O’Driscoll, D’Arcy repeatedly wrong-footed defences and created space for Ireland’s attackers to exploit on the outside.
His performance in the victory over England at Twickenham was particularly standout and ensured he took the Player of the Championship honour from a 20-man shortlist.
And as the crowning of this year’s Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship winner draws nearer, we look back at how D’Arcy etched his name into the record books.
MAKING THE 13 SHIRT HIS OWN
D’Arcy had proven himself at outside centre in the absence of O’Driscoll following the 2003 Rugby World Cup and took the No.13 shirt for Ireland’s opening game of the 2004 Championship.
With O’Driscoll unavailable, D’Arcy started alongside Kevin Maggs in midfield for the curtain-raiser against France but he could not stop the hosts from emerging victorious in Paris.
Tries from Vincent Clerc, Pascal Pape, Yannick Jauzion and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde saw Les Bleus triumph 35-17 at Stade de France, setting them on course for a clean sweep.
But Ireland bounced back in impressive fashion against Wales in Round 2, with D’Arcy reunited with O’Driscoll in the centre as the Men in Green secured a 36-15 success in Dublin.
D’Arcy caused the Wales defenders all sorts of problems with his scything runs, with one such break almost setting up a try in the 23rd minute as Ireland searched for a third score.
O’Driscoll extended Ireland’s 24-3 half-time lead with his second try of the contest before yet another mesmerising D’Arcy break provided a further hint of his attacking potential.
FORMIDABLE MIDFIELD PARTNERSHIP
Despite limping off in the second half against Wales, D’Arcy resumed his spot at outside centre against England in Round 3 and produced one of his most accomplished displays of the Championship.
Facing the reigning world champions, Ireland went into the break 12-10 up thanks to four penalties from Ronan O’Gara in response to Matt Dawson’s try for the hosts at England HQ.
Girvan Dempsey’s second-half try sealed a famous 19-13 victory for the visitors – their first at Twickenham since 1994 – as D’Arcy once again played a leading role for his country both in defence and attack.
It was then the turn of Italy to feel Ireland’s wrath as Eddie O’Sullivan’s side maintained their Championship title challenge with a comfortable 19-3 victory at Lansdowne Road.
The partnership of D’Arcy and O’Driscoll continued to bear fruit in Dublin as the latter added to his try-scoring tally in between further scores from Malcolm O’Kelly and Shane Horgan.
But D’Arcy saved his best performance for the Scotland game in Round 5, scoring the opening try before continuing to run riot against the visitors in Dublin until the final whistle.
D’Arcy crossed the whitewash for a second time shortly before the end as Ireland ran out 37-16 winners, with the centre finishing the game with a remarkable six clean breaks.
TRIPLE CROWN SUCCESS
Ireland were ultimately unable to wrestle the Championship away from France, who clinched the title and a Grand Slam with a narrow 24-21 victory over England later that day.
But any disappointment for D’Arcy was tempered by the fact that he had enjoyed a memorable Championship, capped off with his superb brace to secure the Triple Crown.
It was Ireland’s first Triple Crown in 19 years and after playing a pivotal role for his country, it was no surprise when D’Arcy was named the first Player of the Championship winner.
His partnership with O’Driscoll was hailed for the way it went against the usual formula of using a crash centre at No.12 and ignoring the possibilities of quick offloads in the midfield.
D’Arcy was one of 20 players shortlisted for the inaugural Player of the Championship award, beating off competition from his teammates Shane Byrne, Simon Easterby and Paul O’Connell.
France title winners Serge Betsen, Yannick Jauzion, Sylvain Marconnet and Frédéric Michalak also missed out on the prize to D’Arcy, showing the high calibre of player he was up against for the gong.
D’Arcy went on to also be nominated for IRB Player of the Year in 2004 but his name will forever be etched in history as the very first winner of the Six Nations Player of the Championship award.