By Alan Dymock
OK, SO the Mayans were wrong. The World did not end today, well not yet anyway. However, to be fair, if you are going to set your watch by an ancient civilization you have to be prepared for your timings to be a little iffy. Like a Brian Lima ‘tackle’ or like an incoming David Campese thought just after he has opened his mouth.
Nonetheless, there was fear there. Fear that we would not make it to through to Christmas. Fear that you would never know how that EastEnders cliffhanger turns out. Fear that you would never live to see an Italian Six Nations triumph. Fear that you would never play again. That rugby was gone.
So to celebrate the fact we are all still here, plodding along as normal, here is an array of some of the most magnificent rugby moments of all time.
Webb Ellis on the pickup
The story of William Webb Ellis picking up a football and running with it in the 1870s may be legend; it may be fact. Regardless, it is a quaint little tale that makes us all feel better about our sport, even if it is effectively shoplifting from the spherical fetishists of Association Football, in Boris’ eyes anyway.
Without the myth, we would have a nameless World Cup trophy and no sense of identity. It is a fitting story.
THAT Barbarians’ try
We all know what this is. Gareth Edwards streaks in at the start of a match between the All Blacks and the Barbarians in Cardiff, January 1973. Listen to how many times the words “brilliant!” and “Great stuff!” by the immortal Cliff Morgan are said.
This is the blueprint for all have-a-go rugby heroes and completely encapsulates the spirit of one of the world’s most famous invitational side, the Barbarians.
THAT Jonah Lomu try
Lomu is still the most prolific try-scorer in Rugby World Cup history with 15 scored in just 11 Tests. He is the behemoth that we all think of as the greatest, or at least most jaw-dropping player of his generation.
Where did it all start for us? Here, two minutes into England versus New Zealand when Lomu rolled over poor old Mike Catt like a Panzer tank over a Volkswagen Beatle. That was the moment we all realised the 19 year-old was a wee bit special.
South Africa win the World Cup
This will be forever heralded as one of the great moments in all of sport.
A nation blighted by the unfairness of apartheid managed to pull together and stage one of the great tournaments. There will always be the ghost of ‘Suzie’ and allegedly poisoned food hanging over the 1995 event, but we can see past that. It is worth it for the enduring image of Francois Pienaar being handed the Webb Ellis Cup from Nelson Mandela clad in the green No 6 shirt.
It was a sign of unity that South Africa, and rugby, needed in 1995.
France upsetting the odds
This is not one isolated incident, but a series of moments when our shrugging Gallic brothers showed that when they fancy it there are few that can match them.
In 1987 France slugged it out, punch for punch with Australia in the World Cup semi-final, in the Wallaby’s back yard, and in the dying minutes the ball found Serge Blanco, a man for whom Gitanes and nonchalant shrug were invented, to pin his ears back and go for the corner. Epic, truly epic.
In 1999 they did it again, this time besting New Zealand in the semis by 43-31. The underdogs took on the tournament favourites at Twickenham and pulled out a classic performance, with Christophe Lamaison adding class to the occasion after his team ran in try after try. It was a truly (cardiac) arresting moment in rugby.
They make a habit of this, the French. They were at it again in 2007, this time trumping the All Blacks in the quarters.
At the Millennium Stadium one-man wrecking crew Thierry Dusautoir put in a historic performance to help down the tournament favourites 20-18, putting in 38, yes 38 tackles in a single game.
THAT Lions speech from Jim Telfer
In 1997, the Lions played South Africa and won. In amongst all the never-before-seen footage and fantastic rugby, though, was one speech from Jim Telfer. “This is our Everest Boys”, you know the rest…
You will have to go some way to top this is a team talk. (Warning: Explicit lyrics being spat out by Telfer, here).
Club sides ruffling the Kiwis’ feathers
On ‘the day the pubs ran dry’, in 1972, Phil Bennett and his Llanelli side slammed into their famous opponents and topped them, triumphing 9-3.
It is possibly the game’s greatest upset and proof that on the day anyone can win.
A year later, Munster almost did the same, with the province drawing 3-3 with the All Blacks at Musgrave Park, Cork, in ’73 after leading for most of the game. (In 2010 they defeated Australia, too, but Munster will not be happy until they beat New Zealand).
Wilkinson wins it
This? What this? Oh, this is just Jonny Wilkinson, the top points scorer in Rugby World Cup history, knocking over a wobbler to win the 2003 final.
You would be hard pushed to find a more dominant player for an entire tournament.
Munster finally win a Heineken Cup
Just a year after watching provincial rivals Ulster win the Cup in 1999, Munster made the Heineken final. They lost out narrowly to Northampton (by one point) but it was their first step on a long, painful journey to victory.
Munster were in the knock-out rounds of the Cup every year onwards, making the final three times, including the infamous 2002 final against Leicester Tigers, when Neil Back used the dark arts, okay, his hand, in a scrum to steal the ball. They lost 15-9.
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It was not until 2006 that the province emerged victorious, beating Biarritz 23-19 at the Millennium Stadium. It was a close match, but one edged thanks to a classic Ronan O’Gara performance. That result was also famous for the scenes of jubilation in Limerick.
It was glorious high during Munster’s great love affair with the Cup. They won it again in 2008, defeating Toulouse 16-13, again at the Millennium. O’Gara was also at the fore…again.