Jacob Whitehead runs through the top ten international tries from the Eighties

60 Years of Rugby World: Greatest Tries of the 1980s

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Rugby World magazine, we’re counting down the greatest tries of every decade of its existence and this week it’s the Eighties.

The Rugby World Cup was born, Australia and New Zealand were the dominant sides, while France became the team to beat in the European game. Here are the top ten greatest tries of the 1980s…

Hika Reid (New Zealand) v Australia, 1980  

New Zealand’s 1980 tour of Australia was disappointing by their standards – they lost the Bledisloe Cup 2-1. However, their only Test win was delivered by a move started and finished by hooker Hika Reid (see 2:39 on the video).

He was picked for the tour as an unknown 22-year-old and showed his loose-forward background by ripping the ball away from a maul, setting off a flowing team move, before somehow keeping up with play to dot down under the posts – eight passes and 80 metres later.

Clive Woodward (England) v Scotland, 1981

Clive Woodward was a silky centre who’d toured with the Lions in 1980, but the success of his playing career is often overshadowed by his more illustrious coaching CV. His top moment in an England shirt came against Scotland at Twickenham.

Picking up the ball on a switch at halfway, he beat three defenders with a cut towards the touchline before dummying his way between two sprawling Scottish props.

One-on-one with the full-back in only five metres of space, he produced a sidestep Jason Robinson would have been proud of, stretching out to secure a 23-17 victory.

Jim Calder (Scotland) v Wales, 1982

Winger Roger Baird famously never scored a try for Scotland in 27 Tests, but he was responsible for one of the nation’s great touchdowns back in 1982. Scooping up a loose Gareth Davies kick in his own 22, he arced around the chasers to burst out of defence, with only three forwards inside him.

Once caught, Baird found the loping shape of Iain Paxton, whose lung-busting stride down the pitch eventually ended with a flip inside to Alan Tomes. The second-row looked to have run out of juice, but managed to offload to an out-of-shot Jim Calder, who held off the tackle of Ray Gravell to flop over the line.

David Campese (Australia) v New Zealand, 1982

David Campese made his debut for Australia on this tour – and what an introduction to international rugby it was. His first game saw him beat Stu Wilson, then considered the best wing in the world, with a series of goosesteps before scoring later in the game from a Mark Ella cross-field kick.

What would follow a fortnight later in a 19-16 victory was even better. Campese was involved twice in a Gary Ella try, before finishing off a move in which over half the Australian side handled the ball. Particular highlights are the quick hands of the Ella brothers and the selfless offload from second-row Steve Williams.

Carel du Plessis (Overseas XV) v Five Nations XV, 1986

South Africa struggled to play top-class opposition in the 1980s due to the apartheid system, but a number of Springbok internationals found their way into an Overseas XV that faced a Five Nations XV at Twickenham to celebrate the centenary of the IRFB (now World Rugby).

With the Overseas XV comfortably leading, some of their South African and Kiwi stars combined for a magical try (see 43:50 on the video).

A flowing move found John Kirwan on the outside and he in turn found Danie Gerber, perhaps the finest Springbok centre of all. His swaying run took the ball back to centre-field before he unleashed a looping pass to the left wing to unlock the defence.

A simple pop back inside and South African wing Carel du Plessis was away, outrunning three defenders before showing the strength to hold off three more and force the ball over the line.


Uli Schmidt (South Africa) v New Zealand Cavaliers, 1986

New Zealand’s controversial 1981 tour to South Africa meant that the NZRFU cancelled future trips, but an official group still travelled to South Africa in 1986, with only David Kirk and John Kirwan of the previous year’s squad not going.

The tour was a bad idea – the New Zealand Cavaliers were widely condemned and beaten comfortably by the South Africans. While events on the field were quite rightly overshadowed by the political contention of the situation, hooker Uli Schmidt showed rare athleticism to score one excellent try (see 1:20 on the video).

South Africa were going backwards after an errant pass, but a midfield switch put Carel du Plessis in space. He swerved past two defenders before finding Schmidt on a beautifully-timed inside pass. Showing surprising pace, Schmidt burned past Kirwan’s replacement, Craig Green, to score the final try in a 33-18 triumph.


John Kirwan (New Zealand) v Italy, 1987

Justin Tipuric’s try created straight from a kick-off in this year’s Six Nations was exceptional, but possibly even greater is a try in which one man does all the work. New Zealand’s first-ever Rugby World Cup game was a 70-6 thrashing of Italy, a match remembered for John Kirwan’s meandering masterpiece.

What is most remarkable about Kirwan’s defence-splitting run is that he beat six defenders. Like an American Football running back, the Auckland man picked an exacting path through sprawling defenders – but without any blockers to help him. An Italian didn’t come particularly close to tackling him – save for once he’d already crossed the line, 90 metres later.

Serge Blanco (France) v Australia, 1987

France were the classiest European team of the decade, but their most iconic moment of the decade came not through exactitude but the glorious imperfection of Serge Blanco’s World Cup semi-final winner.

With scores tied at 24-24, a kick forward saw Jean Condom almost knock himself out on the floor but crucially reclaim the ball. It then travelled through 11 pairs of French hands, narrowly surviving head-high tackles and improbable offloads to find Blanco in half a yard of space.

He didn’t have the best angle, but his smooth running style saw him beat Tom Lawton to the corner. His celebration, pounding the floor with his fists, is one of the defining images of French rugby.

Jonathan Davies (Wales) v Scotland, 1988

After the success of the 1970s, the 1980s were more of a lost decade for Wales, but the talents of mercurial fly-half Jonathan Davies reminded some fans of the glory days. Perhaps his best moment in the famous red No 10 jersey came against the Scots in a comeback 25-20 victory.

A retreating scum forced No 9 Robert Jones to throw a remarkable pass out the back of his hand, finding Davies sitting uncharacteristically deep. ‘Jiffy’ jinked past Finlay Calder, but with the entire Scottish scrum ahead of him options seemed limited.

However, like the greats, he saw a solution no other player envisaged, threading a grubber through a forest of legs and outsprinting Derek White to the ball. Come for the try, stay for the daggers he gives White as both lie tangled on the ground.

Noel Mannion (Ireland) v Wales, 1989

Ireland had lost in the 1987 World Cup to Wales and been beaten by them at home the year after, so entered the 1989 clash low on confidence. Noel Mannion’s remarkable try saw them to a 19-13 victory, a try so gloriously odd that it became an instant classic.

A promising Wales attack saw Bleddyn Bowen’s attacking kick smash into advancing No 8 Mannion’s stomach. Whereas most ordinary humans would have been felled by this gut-punch, Mannion somehow caught the ball and, by the time anyone had realised, was already streaking away up the pitch, a blur of green wildfire.

It looked as if speedy Welsh flanker David Bryant would catch him, but the Connacht man somehow held him off to gambol over and collapse exhausted in the corner.

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