Relive the drama of Super Saturday 2015

Paul O’Connell lifts the RBS Six Nations trophy 13/10/2015
The twelve-try thriller at Twickenham that capped off Super Saturday in 2015 was about as brilliant a piece of drama as Rugby’s Greatest Championship has ever seen.

The twelve-try thriller at Twickenham that capped off Super Saturday in 2015 was about as brilliant a piece of drama as Rugby’s Greatest Championship has ever seen.

But while one corner of South West London had over 80,000 people chewing their fingernails to the quick – 420 miles north in Edinburgh the scene was just as tense on a day when all six countries played their part in a thrilling denouement played out in three European capitals.

Calculators had been thrown out the window as Joe Schmidt’s Ireland – some three hours after their own handsome victory over Scotland – were praying for the final whistle to go.

France – with nothing but pride to play for and the game already lost – were desperately holding out on their tryline to deny England.

All Stuart Lancaster’s side needed was one more converted try to steal the crown from under Rory Best and Ireland’s nose.

“I was just thinking, it’s not going to be our day, it’s not going to be our day,” remembers the hooker.

But how had it got to this point?

To understand that, we need to rewind half a day and head to Rome for the first of three seismic clashes on this most Super of Saturdays.

It is an often forgotten fact that – for the first time in history – four sides came into the final day with a chance of winning the 2015 Championship.

France’s claim was admittedly a long shot – they needed both Wales and Ireland 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.

But 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 have a chance of securing the title.

And after a sluggish first half where Jamie Roberts and Giovanbattista Venditti swapped scores, Gatland’s side hit the accelerator – running in 47 points including a George North hat-trick and suddenly the cat was well and truly amongst the pigeons.

And Best – busy warming up for Ireland’s clash with Scotland that would follow immediately – recalls the mood in the Irish camp.

“I think for us I remember watching, we caught most of the first half of the Wales game before we had to meet and go and Italy had started pretty well,” he said.

“It was quite tight at half-time. We had the team meeting, hopped on the bus and arrived at BT Murrayfield.

“You walk down the tunnel at the stadium  and a couple of the pillars have TVs, so we’re going out to have a look around the pitch and all of a sudden it went from 13-12 to 50 or 60 and we’re going, we might need a few more points here…”

A last-gasp consolation score for Italy from Leonardo Sarto did change the complexion of the points table however and Wales skipper Sam Warburton just wasn’t sure if his side had done enough.

“It was difficult because we gave away a try in the last minute which lost us seven points. I remember thinking that seven points could come back and haunt us,” he said.

“It didn’t but for quarter of an hour, 20 minutes, I thought, have we got an outside chance here? There was a quiet excitement when we spoke after.”

So to Edinburgh, where Joe Schmidt’s Ireland now knew that only a 20-point margin of victory would be enough to overtake the Welsh.

“Joe came out and said, we thought we needed 15, now it’s going to be more like 20 or 21, that’s our difference now. It doesn’t change our process, just keep going about it,” remembers Best.

Early scores for Paul O’Connell – a collector’s item indeed – and Sean O’Brien settled the Irish nerves and Warburton knew then that Wales’ race was run.

“Outside of our changing room, there was a TV in the stadium,” he said. “Ireland quickly went two tries up, 14-0 up after 15 minutes, ten minutes, it was at that point I realised Ireland would be able to put up whatever score they needed to make sure they won the Championship.”

At half-time Ireland only led 20-10 but they turned on the style after the break to score 20 more unanswered points.

A couple of late missed kicks from Jonathan Sexton and Ian Madigan could have come back to haunt the men in green and Schmidt was full of mixed emotions at the final whistle.

“We won and kind of looked around at each other and said, that was good to win,” he said.

“That was good to win that game and get a good differential but is that going to be enough?”

But for Best it was a dream day – regardless of the results elsewhere.

“We had a couple of big moments, Jamie (Heaslip) made a try-saving tackle on Stuart Hogg, and it’s one of those days where a lot of the stuff we’d executed and talked through during the week came off for us,” said the hooker.

Now attentions turned to Twickenham and England’s hopes of finally sealing the crown under Lancaster.

The history books will record England again fell just short in their  title bid. But this 12-try rollercoaster was a match that had it all, as the curtain came down on the Championship with an encounter that may not have decided the destination of the title but will still live long in the memory.

England knew they had to win by a 26-point margin to claim the title after three consecutive runners-up places.

“That day it is true it was a spectacular match. The score was big. It was the attacks that overwhelmed the defences,” remembers France hooker Guilhem Guirado.

Twickenham was being treated to a feast of running rugby but Best, Schmidt and the Ireland fans – who had been let back into BT Murrayfield to watch the game on the big screens – were not enjoying it.

“To describe it as tortuous is probably being kind to how we felt,” added Schmidt.

“It was see-sawing and getting closer and when Jack Nowell scored, then they got the driving line-out close.” Best added: “Unfortunately you couldn’t watch it as a neutral, but as a rugby supporter, it was an unbelievable game of rugby.”

At 55-35 and the clock now in the red, England still needed a converted score to take the title to London.

France turned the ball over and won a penalty and surely the title was Ireland’s? Then another moment of French magic – or madness depending on who you support – gave England faint hope as Yoann Huget tapped and went.

“The release when they got the penalty, but the despair when they tapped it,” said Schmidt.

Finally Rory Kockott booted the ball into touch and Ireland had won the title for a second year in a row, O’Connell had his perfect Six Nations farewell and the party could start up north.

“When you retire and look back it will be one of the fondest memories that you have going out,” said Best.

“The SRU keeping so many supporters, allowing them to come back into the stadium 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.”