Call it neighbourly envy, friendly rivalry or downright hatred; Ireland v England has always been a standout date in any rugby fans calendar. Historical and political considerations aside, familiarity can breed contempt and in this fixture, that statement rings true. Like two prize fighters, Ireland and England have both landed significant blows on one another. Each have spent time on the ropes only to come out swinging.
It took Ireland 13 attempts to register their first victory over the English in 1887 but, since then, the games have been fairly evenly split; 60 wins for England, with Ireland taking 45 and seven games being drawn. Both teams have experienced periods of relative dominance in the this fixture, rattling off several consecutive successes; although England hold the edge here with a 12 year unbeaten run split either side of the First World War.
This fixture has historically been fiercely contested and superbly exciting throughout the years but let us focus our attention on the games within the current championship format; the wonderful and unparalleled Six Nations. The first Six Nations encounter between Ireland and England ended with very one-sided English victory, 50-18 at Twickenham in 2000. The most recent clash was the 30-9 Irish embarrassment at “The Home of Rugby” on St. Patricks Day last year; a result which is still fresh in the memory of the Irish players and supporters alike.
With that backdrop, let’s now look back over some of the best Ireland v England Six Nations clashes....
The Perfect Storm – 30th March, 2003
This game should been one of the greatest days in Irish sporting history. Having a gone a perfect four wins from four games, they were one victory away from securing a first grand slam since 1947. The stage was set perfectly; it was against the old enemy, who had also gone unbeaten through the previous rounds, on a Sunday afternoon at Lansdowne Road. Unfortunately for Ireland, the visitors hadn’t read the script. Marshalled by Jonny Wilkinson and lead by a ferociously strong pack, anchored by Laurence Dallaglio, England romped to a five try, 42-6 win, completing their own clean sweep in the process. The fact that this England team would go on to win the World Cup later that same year was evidence of just how strong a side they were at that time.
Ecstasy and Agony – 18th March, 2006
Quite simply, this game was straight out of a Hollywood film script. England were chasing the Six Nations championship, while Ireland were chasing the triple crown. Something had to give. And, in quite spectacular fashion, something finally did. In front of a packed house at Twickenham, this penultimate game of the 2006 Six Nations came down to the wire. Scores were exchanged back and forth throughout the game, with England taking a 24-21 lead with only four minutes remaining. Following a chip and chase with Ronan O’Gara, Shane Horgan was sent free down the touchline only to be stopped a few metres short by a wonderful covering tackle. A few phases later Horgan was fed the ball and dived for the corner but appeared to be put into touch. Cue the TMO review and, astonishingly, Horgan had managed to stay in touch whilst grounding the ball, one-handed, on the line. A man 2 inches shorter than Horgan’s 6’4” frame would not have scored. In scoring, Horgan simultaneously secured a triple crown for Ireland whilst denying England the championship.
Battling History – 24th February 2007
This was more than just a game; this was an opportunity to keep sacred the hallowed ground of Croke Park, the headquarters of Gaelic Football in Ireland. The scene of one of the most tragic moments in Irish history, Bloody Sunday, became the venue for one of Ireland’s greatest sporting triumphs. In an atmosphere that no rainfall could dampen, the Irish intensity and determination was a decisive factor in the game. Ireland ran out to a 23-3 lead at half-time and, despite England getting the lead down to 13 points, this was simply a game history would not allow the boys in green to lose. Ireland kept the foot to the floor and, in truth, could have had a try or two more but for some staunch English defending. The occasion itself was encapsulated by one simple yet spectacular moment. Following a scrum five metres out from the English try line, Ronan O’Gara hoisted up an almighty cross field kick which, in true GAA fashion, was fielded and grounded majestically by Shane Horgan. A fitting score for this wonderful arena and the perfect stamp on a record Irish victory.
Oh, Danny Boy – 15th March, 2008
Danny Cipriani had the dream first start of his England career (and the pinnacle of it in many people’s eyes) as he kicked 18 points and commanded a strong English comeback to exact revenge for the Croke Park embarrassment the previous year. An Irish side containing up and coming stars such as Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble raced out to an early 10-0 lead before Cipriani began to assert himself. He ran the backline with uncharacteristic assuredness, slotting seven kicks in the process, with England notching up 33 unanswered points to run out deserved winners and ease the pressure on the much maligned Brian Ashton.
The Life of Brian – 28th February 2009
Brian O’Driscoll led a dogged Irish side to edge this very close encounter by a single point and kept the boys in green on course for the elusive Grand Slam. O’Driscoll managed to score a try underthe English defenders (a try which he would later confirm he couldn’t remember, due to a mild concussion), was extraordinary in his defensive work and even kicked a drop goal in a man of the match display, which moved Ireland one step closer to their historic day in Cardiff. The visitors played their part in an enthralling display, which lacked points but did not lack conviction, courage and effort. Delon Armitage finished a wonderful breakaway English move, grounding a kick through, to bring them within a point with ninety seconds remaining but Ireland managed to hold on for a crucial and memorable victory.
Another string in his Bowe – 27th February, 2010
Having scored the standout try of the penultimate game in the Championship the previous year, Tommy Bowe stepped up to the mark in this exhilarating clash, which truly could have gone either way. Ireland jumped out to an early lead thanks to Bowes first try (a slick kick and collect move with Johnny Sexton), while Wilkinson kept England close with a couple of penalties. Keith Earls went over to put Ireland 13-6 up, only for a converted Dan Cole try to bring the teams level. Wilko then did what he does best and knocked over an opportunistic drop goal to give England a three point lead with 10 minutes remaining. Step forward Bowe who, following a wonderfully scripted lineout move, darted beyond Wilkinson and outpaced Ugo Monye to get to the line. Ronan O’Gara added the extras to leave the final score 20-16.
Irish victory the following season at the Aviva was followed last year by the St. Patricks Day embarrassment, so it is safe to say that both sides are hungry heading into Sundays clash in Dublin. The outcome of this weekend’s clash is anyone’s guess but, if these games are any indication, we are in for a real treat....