With the World Cup final fast approaching I thought it was an appropriate time for this article. These are just my personal favourites. Apologies in advance for omitting the New Zealand France 1999 World Cup Semi-final. Let the debate commence.
5. France 22-36 Scotland (5 Nations, Stade de France, 10/4/99)
This is the only match on the list that I couldn’t find a video for; and possibly the only match in my lifetime I can remember Scotland cutting loose against a top tier rugby nation. After falling behind early in the first half Scotland replied with five first half tries. Playing with a verve scarcely seen since, Scotland eviscerated the French in their own backyard. 5 first half tries secured the victory and England’s shock defeat to Wales the next day gifted Scotland the last ever 5 Nations title. Oh for a return to the days of flair and mesmeric running provided by Gregor Townsend, Kenny Logan and Alan Tait.
4. Australia 17-20 England (World cup Final, Telstra Stadium, 22/11/03)
“He drops for World Cup glory…” Ian Robertson’s immortal commentary perfectly encapsulated the drama of the moment as Jonny Wilkinson lined up the winning drop goal and England’s relentless march to the global rugby crown was completed. Despite the Aussies taking an early lead through Lote Tuqiri’s try, England dominated most of the final 100 minutes and Australia were perhaps fortunate to reach extra time. To do so they relied on sympathetic refereeing from Andre Watson and immense nerve from Elton Flatley who’s crucial penalties kept Australia in touch. Ultimately, England were not to be denied and the winning drop goal from their most famous, if not greatest, player was a fitting conclusion.
3. Australia 21-50 New Zealand (Bledisloe Cup, Telstra Stadium, 26/7/03)
Massacre, humiliation, mother of all hidings. The Australian commentary team summed up this tri-nations encounter best. A Carlos Spencer inspired All Black back division completely shredded the Aussies in Sydney. Probably the best display of attacking rugby I’ve ever seen complete with the electrifying Joe Rokocoko, Doug Howlett and Mils Muliaina running riot. A young Dan Carter also waltzed through the porous Aussie defence to announce his arrival on the world stage. With this attacking potency how could this All Black team possibly fail to win the World Cup in three month’s time? Oh yes, another choke job – gagging their way to a stunning defeat against the same opposition in the same stadium.
2. Australia 27-21 South Africa (World Cup Semi-final, Twickenham, 30/10/99)
This certainly wasn’t a grand display of attacking rugby but it might be the most nerve-wracking, tense game I’ve ever watched. A kicking duel between Matt Burke and Jannie de Beer failed to separate the sides in normal time, with De Beer slotting one of the greatest pressure penalties of all-time from 35 metres on the angle just to take the match to Extra Time. However, the difference on the evening was the greatest drop goal of all time (apologies to Mr. Wilkinson). After a midfield lineout the ball was ferried out to the Australian Number 10 Stephen Larkham, a man without a previous single drop goal in test rugby, but from 48 metres Larkham hammered the ball straight and true and through the posts to break the deadlock for good.
1. South Africa 28-25 British & Irish Lions (Second Test, Loftus Versfeld, 27/6/09)
Without doubt the greatest rugby match I’ve ever seen and it’s not even close. Overflowing with skill, drama, huge controversy and a heart stopping ending, the second test contained everything that a truly Great sporting event must have. The highlights sum it all up perfectly. Oh Ronan…