Jacob Whitehead runs through the top ten international tries from the Noughties
60 Years of Rugby World: Greatest Tries of the 2000s
We’re now well into the era of professionalism, which featured a period of English dominance, a South African resurgence and some glorious running rugby. The 2007 World Cup must have had the best collection of tries of any tournament ever played – every other match seemingly saw a length-of-the-field effort.
Some honourable mentions of tries unlucky to miss out – from RWC 2007 came Vilimoni Delasau’s chip-and-chase against Wales, a try integral in Fiji’s march to the knockout stages, and Jacques Fourie’s try against the Lions in 2009, in which the Springbok somehow fought off three defenders to power into the corner.
With tries as good as these not on the list, what were the ten best international tries of the Noughties?
Christian Cullen (New Zealand) v Australia, 2000
Picking any top ten list is always difficult – and subjective. In this instance, do you prefer power or pace, stepping or gliding, invention or precision?
Christian Cullen’s 2000 try against the Wallabies somehow combines many of these facets, becoming one of the greatest set-piece tries because of the way its execution matches its imagination.
Australia believe that Justin Marshall is a front lifter, before the nine spins from the lineout to fling the ball out to Carlos Spencer, who runs a loop around a strange clump of three forwards, all of whom are facing the wrong way, bound up like a front row. Confused? Try being the defenders.
The dizzying move continues as interplay between Jonah Lomu and Tana Umaga puts the latter into space. There were enough Australian tacklers about – they just have no idea where to look, and Umaga takes advantage to scythe through, draw the full-back and put Christian Cullen in for one of the easiest of his 46 All Black tries.
Brian O’Driscoll (British & Irish Lions) v Australia, 2001
The greatest try from arguably the greatest centre. Almost decapitated a phase before (keep a close eye on the start of the video), a simple shimmy somehow sees three Wallaby defenders beaten.
The most beautiful part of the score is the way in which O’Driscoll comes to what almost feels a complete stop, before beating Chris Latham with a quick feint to the left and then re-accelerating to beat Joe Roff to the line.
Only 22 years old and winning a Test match for the Lions. As the commentator cries, “Oh, you beauty!’
Ben Cohen (England) v Ireland, 2002
A criticism of England throughout their greatest period was a perceived boring style of play – win scrums, win lineouts, win penalties, kick the penalties. But they really could play some wonderful rugby – a shining example being their dominant 45-11 win over Ireland in 2002.
So far in these lists we’ve seen a number of tries scored directly from kick-off – Fijian offloading in 1970, Kirwan’s magic in 1987 – but England’s effort challenges them both, the ball passing through 11 pairs of hands in a flowing move.
After Austin Healey finds space outside, Kyran Bracken takes the ball on and, with a simple hip swivel, the pitch suddenly opens up.
There follows a wonderful straight footrace between Mike Tindall and Denis Hickie, the latter pulling off an excellent tackle, but the ball finds its way via Joe Worsley to Ben Cohen to add another try to a quite remarkable scoring record.
Rupeni Caucaunibuca (Fiji) v France, 2003
I’ve already spoken at length about my appreciation of Rupeni Caucaunibuca, and this try was his tour de force (see 2:10 on the video). The match encapsulated his career – beguiling speed and rash decisions, a wonderful try and a two-week ban.
Taking a wonderful looped pass from full-back Norman Ligairi (who scored a wonderful try of his own this tournament), there seemed no chance of Caucau scoring. But he surged to the outside of Aurelien Rougerie, never gave Imanol Harinordoquy a chance and made swerving inside Nicolas Brusque look as simple as hopping onto a bus. It all just looked… so easy.
Caucau would later be suspended for punching Olivier Magne, but he’d return to score two sparkling tries against Scotland.
Joe Rokocoko (New Zealand) v South Africa, 2003
This try is all about one skill, a pass so good that it became known as ‘the Carlos Spencer’.
Spencer holds a strange place in memories of All Black tens: thrilling to watch, yet often unfairly maligned for losing matches (the very game after this try, he’d be castigated for throwing an intercept to Stirling Mortlock in the World Cup semi-final). But still, this moment captures all of Spencer’s allure, the touch of magic he possessed.
Now, the sensible play when a metre from the opponent’s line without any penalty advantage is to rumble it up through the forwards for a few phases, suck up the defence, and then maybe go wide.
Not for Spencer. On second phase he takes a short pass from Justin Marshall, turns to face infield, then suddenly flings the ball backwards between his legs to Rokocoko, who would have an easy finish in the corner.
It’s not immediately clear why he does it – the defence were already slightly out of position. But on second viewing you can see South African centre De Wet Barry check his run slightly – giving Rokocoko the metre of space he needs. Visionary.
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Jacob Whitehead runs through the top ten Test…
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Stephen Jones (Wales) v England, 2003
One of the great Welsh tries (see 0:43 on the video), echoing those great sides of the 1970s with a vintage first-half performance against the eventual world champions.
Shane Williams would start the move with the admittedly simple task of sidestepping Ben Kay. He’d find Gareth Cooper scampering through, who would in turn pass to Gareth Thomas, who had already started to stumble before catching the ball.
Thomas would somehow keep it alive, flipping it back to Williams, who’d juggle the ball like a nervous circus performer before knocking it inside to the chasing Stephen Jones to score. The whole thing took only 13 seconds.
This game could have seen two tries on our list – it’s worth playing the highlights through to see Jason Robinson’s electric run and precision pass to set up Will Greenwood’s try in the corner. Which do you think is better?
Dan Carter (New Zealand) v Lions, 2005
The greatest fly-half performance of all time had a try to match (see 0:50 on the video). Carter was the conductor of the All Black orchestra in the second Test; a sparkling break had already set up Tana Umaga but better still was to come.
Ghosting onto a Rodney So’oialo pass, he purred by Jonny Wilkinson – and it felt like a power-shift, an assertion of who was the best stand-off in the world. He’d show why in the next second.
Running at full speed, without breaking stride, Carter would dribble a grubber along a tightrope, defying the looming touchline, tiptoeing around Josh Lewsey and diving on the loose ball to score.
Sometimes great tries are ruined by the TMO. Not this, as we got to watch it over and over again before the score was finally awarded.
Kosuke Endo (Japan) v Wales, 2007
Few tries start with a spark of invention from a second-row (with apologies to Leone Nakarawa, fighting a lone battle against this statement), but this length-of-the-field effort from Japan is one such moment.
Japan had a terrible tournament, failing to win a game and squeaking to a late draw against Canada, but they showed a flash of the potential realised eight years later, albeit in this 72-18 loss to Wales.
Hitoshi Ono is now Japan’s most-capped player, but as a World Cup rookie in 2007 he was desperate to impress and turned over Alix Popham on his own line before marauding upfield.
Beautiful hands from fly-half Bryce Robins would find Yuta Imamura, whose outstanding pace would crucially draw Shane Williams off his wing.
This made the space for Kosuke Endo, although it still took an excellent floated pass from Imamura to find him streaking into the corner for a try as good as any scored that tournament.
Takudzwa Ngwenya (USA) v South Africa, 2007
Bryan Habana was the star of the 2007 World Cup, so when an unknown winger burned past him, everyone took notice.
It all began with talismanic flanker Todd Clever, who intercepted a Fourie du Preez pass on his own line and set off upfield. Biffing Butch James out of the way, he found Alec Parker, and in turn Mike Hercus, who knew the one thing he had to do immediately was get the ball to Takudzwa Ngwenya.
Ngwenya had a personal best of 10.5 seconds in the 100m – a fact Bryan Habana wasn’t aware of, considering himself as the quickest man in the tournament. He showed Ngwenya the outside, and, after a moment’s hesitation, the American winger took it.
The surprise is clear from Habana’s gait, suddenly stiffening from a jog to desperate sprint, all to no avail, as Ngwenya showed a jet pair of heels to score US rugby’s most famous try.
Federico Martin Aramburu (Argentina) v France, 2007
It had stiff competition, but the score awarded best try at the 2007 World Cup came in the penultimate game – and it was a suitable monument to the surprise package of the competition, Argentina.
Ignacio Corleto had ignited the tournament for the Pumas in the opening match, scoring an excellent try against the French. France must have been sick of the sight of his flowing locks, as the full-back started the move that would seal third place for Argentina with a dashing break that beat five defenders.
Caught on the 22, he fired a desperate offload and, with the move kept alive by two forwards, the ball found its way to Juan Martin Hernandez. The fly-half was the standout ten of the tournament and put a final flourish on his credentials with a pass that looked a lazy heave but turned into a dead-eyed bullet.
It found second-row Rimas Alvarez Kairelis, who had the good sense to not ruin the score by attempting to finish the move himself, shipping the ball on to Federico Martin Aramburu, who would skip over in the corner.
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