We take a look at some of the Top Moments in Six Nations history, with stories from inside those moments, shedding some light on what made them special. This is an advertising feature. This piece is written in Partnership with Tissot.
Six Nations Top Moments, The Inside Stories
France 22-24 England, 2012
In 2011, France knocked England out of the Rugby World Cup. By 2012, a new-look side, led by Stuart Lancaster, headed to France hoping to exact a little revenge in the Six Nations. Alex Corbisiero’s memories of that day are very clear.
He says with a smile: “Lancaster asked Peter Winterbottom to give us a speech in the build-up to the game. I remember him saying he would give Thierry Dusautoir a bit of a dig if he was playing and caught him in a ruck!
“I remember seeing the crowd, the odd player warming up or starting to switch on. The pressure was on us. The build-up felt like a long time.
“Once the game kicked off it was special. I can recall most of the game, it was just one of those days. I can remember the game being so tight, there was a lot of pressure coming from Nicolas Mas, who was doing so well at tighthead at the time.”
England had a young team out, a new-look side that conceded hundreds of caps to their French counterparts. But that day they toughed it out to win 24-22, away from home. It was a defining moment for many careers and an instant classic that saw England clinch it by the skin of their teeth.
Corbisiero looks back: “When Ben Foden scored in the first half I was swept up, there was relief. And then Tom Croft went sprinting through for a try near the end. We threw everything at it. I was hugging him under the sticks.
“That try and the jumping around after, I think that was a moment that really brought us all together. For the collective, it was about believing and I’ll never forget that feeling. And maybe there was a bit of revenge for those of us who had lost to France in the 2011 World Cup.”
With so many special Six Nations moments, ties can be decided as match clock, run by Official Timekeepers Tissot, ticks towards the conclusion. This match was no exception. Manu Tuilagi also scored for England, but they did not have things all their own way and had to grit their teeth in the second half.
A late try by Wesley Fofana and an impossible conversion by Morgan Parra meant that there were two points in it at the death, with France hunting down the result.
And then Francois Trinh-Duc had a drop-goal to win it… Only for the ball to fall short. England squeaked by.
Corbisiero reflects: “After 2011, Lanny had faith in us to take hold of the culture. To put our demons to rest and prepare a new chapter. The thing I took away from that game was a bit of self-belief.
“At the time everyone was doubting you – could you scrummage? Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole are very established now, but at that time they wondered about us against the French pack.
“You learn so much more from being in those competitive games than you do from blowing people away. It’s trench warfare, sometimes. And this was the first time as a group we really did it together.”
Ireland 20-23 Scotland, Dublin 2010
At the grand cathedral of Gaelic Football, Croke Park, Scotland turned up determined to cause mischief for the Irish in 2010.
“The general backdrop for us is that our away record for Scotland had been poor,” No 8 Johnnie Beattie says of the need to cause an upset. They were not fancied and the Irish team ahead was full of stars.
But Scotland pulled a 23-20 win out of the hat, helped by an early Beattie try and a nerveless penalty kick by Dan Parks on minute 78.
On those key moments, Beattie says: “I don’t remember the build-up to my try at all. I remember running into Geordan Murphy out wide. And then all I remember is the feeling of my team-mates around me.
“When it came to Parks’s kick, I couldn’t watch. I can’t really watch kicks, I never have. Normally I’d watch on the screen, but they didn’t have that so I had to watch him to see if it would go over. Not the kick, but his reaction after he kicked it. And I think I remember Parksy turning round and shooting pistols with his fingers!”
Funny to look back on, but a brilliant moment in time. Beattie laughs as he recalls: “He is a complete clown, but he had knocked it over. And to see your mate do that, especially considering how much Dan had struggled with criticism in his career, was great.”
There have been lean years for Scotland and this result came in the midst of a tough spell. This result could not be taken for granted, because so few predicted it. The Scottish players, understandably, wanted to take all of it in.
“I remember being on the pitch after that game, looking up at the faces and the Scottish fans in the crowd were going bananas,” Beattie says. “You find yourself wishing you could give that feeling to the people far away, those at home on the couch watching the game.
“The only thing I can compare it too was in 2006 when I watched Scotland beat England. That was an amazing night, it was like a siege in Edinburgh.
“To compare (the win in Ireland) with the last few years, that was part of a difficult period for Scotland. So we just wanted to savour that moment. We had worked so hard and that was a really celebrated Irish team. So we just wanted to go around the ground, celebrate with the fans and each other and then enjoy the night in Dublin.”
France 24-21 England, 2004
“The Six Nations in 2004 were six months after the World Cup in Australia,” France’s Olivier Magne remembers. “And of course England beat us in that semi-finals. We felt that if we hadn’t lost to England then that we would have had a very good opportunity. So in 2004 that was our chance to say to the world that we are still a very good team.”
In Paris in 2004, England turned up hoping to derail a French Grand Slam. According to back-rower Magne, France were maybe not the most confident, but with so much up for grabs and a shot at avenging their World Cup loss, they would put their bodies on the line. They had to.
France led at half-time 21-3, thanks to tries from No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy and scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili – who also kicked 14 points. But in the second, France had to repel a rampaging, resurgent England who scored tries through Ben Cohen and Josh Lewsey. France clung on to win 24-21.
Magne does laugh when he is reminded that his body was knocked off that famous line during the game, by an enormous Phil Vickery hit. “Vickery is a strong guy, a very aggressive forward – I tried to go through him but I hit a brick wall!” he recalls.
But he and his cohorts held fast, not saying much at all but led by a core of French heroes who had played together for a long time. Magne explains: “There were not a lot of words during the match. You just totally focus on the game-plan. You try to stay in the match. If you see a partner in difficulty, you help him. Raphaël Ibanñez was very good for this, as was Christophe Dominici and Fabien Pelous. These are guys I had played together with since we were 14 years old. We tried to take others with us, so it was not just words. We wanted to show what to do.
“It was a special time. We had a mix of experience, guys between 27 and 30. But we also had younger players like Imanol Harinordoquy and Freddie Michalak. A good mix, with young players who had enthusiasm. We had a good time together, not only on the pitch but through the week too.”
Magne won four titles, two in the Five Nations and two in the Six Nations, with all of them Grand Slams. The former back-rower, who is now a pundit for Eurosport and a restaurateur in Hossegor, explains the magic of it all: “The Six Nations, when you play, something always smells different. Something always happens. It’s why we love the tournament.”
Italy 23-18 France, Rome 2013
The explosive Six Nations victory over France in 2013 had it’s moment, but Martin Castrogiovanni also fondly remembers the booze-up after Italy’s opening-round win in Rome that day.
Castrogiovanni – who also played in 2011 when Italy defeated France 22-21 – had plenty of reasons to delight in the result. He scored a special, emotional try in 2013, and the team held off their continental neighbours right to the death.
“When I scored, we started from our 22 – we played so many phases,” The former tighthead says. “I was lucky to find the ball about three metres out and I got over to score. We played a really beautiful way. It felt like all 15 players touched the ball before I scored.
“What I remember was that my dad was in the stands that day. He had come over from Argentina. He used to go and see my games when I played in Argentina but he wouldn’t come to all of my games for Italy, only a few.”
The former Leicester Tigers pillar is one of the game’s characters. He admits that many games will pass him by and that he does not really watch rugby any more. The big moments, though, deserve colouring-in.
“Sometimes things just go the way you want,” Castrogiovanni reasons. “You know that day you have, when everything goes well? I think the game against France was a day when things from the past came together. We’ had a few years with Nick Mallett (before Jacques Brunel took over) and he had done some things to help bring out our Latin emotions. I think that, and it was just a good time for us, and not so good for France.
“Sometimes you also wake up and everything you try comes off. That might be what happened for (Italy fly-half) Luciano Orquera then. It’s hard to explain. Maybe his wife didn’t break his balls too much that day?”
And how was the mood as Tissot, the Official Timekeepers of the Six Nations, counted down the closing seconds? “We had to hold on. Sometimes when you are next to your friends, you are finally going to do something big, you put your body on the line. You have one step to do something really big, you take it.
“At about 82 minutes we had three or four scrums. You don’t talk. You just close your eyes and get on with it! There is not much to say. You just think to yourself, ‘Let’s do it… Let’s do something special.’”
The post-match drinks were well earned.
Wales 30-3 England, Cardiff 2013
It was not meant to go like this. England were chasing a Grand Slam and Wales had only just got their title defence on track. They had a glimmer of winning the Six Nations again if they triumphed by seven points or more, but Wales were not the team being touted as potential victors as the English arrived in Wales for the decider.
Yet, on 16 March 2013, Wales blew everyone away to take the Championship.
At the vanguard of that Welsh onslaught was Richard Hibbard, a runaway toolchest with a blond explosion of hair. “To talk about that win you’ve gotta start from where we were,” Hibbard tells Rugby World. “We were on a losing streak (a fifth loss at home in a row, a record) when we lost to Ireland in the first game. The press were writing us off, the fans weren’t happy – which is understandable, losing at home. But it got us so tight as a group. Then we got the France result. And then the Scotland result.”
When it got to match day in Cardiff, the team were aware that they had a hope of Championship glory, but beating the English was all they were talking about. Little chit-chats were observed at breakfast, everyone trying to act ‘normal’. But on the way in to the stadium the noise grew.
A few things stand out in the memory bank for Hibbard. “That game was so fast. I remember looking up at the clock, thinking that it must be close to the half, it had all gone so quick. Something like 12 minutes had gone and I thought: “Oh my god, how the hell am I going to last?” But you do.
“I can remember one scrum, it went down and we got the penalty. The front-row relieved the pressure. Dan Cole was on top of me, shaking me, he was so incensed. I knew that they were worried. And I remember putting a big shot on Joe Marler. Those are the things that stay with you.”
In a second half of typically brilliant Six Nations madness, when the Welsh back-row led by Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric tormented the English and Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar kept knocking over kicks, Wales stretched their lead beyond any reasonable doubt.
Not for the first time, Hibbard was aware of the clock, run by Official Timekeepers Tissot, running down. What were those closing stages like? “Well I came off after 55 minutes and I headed straight down the tunnel,” Hibbard says. “I sat there and buried my head in my hands – I didn’t want to listen! I just wanted to beat them. We finished on a high and in the last 20 minutes we took control.
“I understood (how big it was) when we went to collect the trophy. The stadium was still full and when they turned the lights out, it felt like they were right on top of you.
“The stars did align that day, but nothing outside the group had ever affected us going into it. Nothing else matters as much as the people that came through it.”
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