Six Nations: six famous Ireland wins against England at Twickenham

From the ‘mad octopus’ to the prawn sandwich brigade, some of Ireland’s best wins on English soil remembered

1974: England 21 Ireland 26

Back in the mid-1970s, as now, Ireland were the dominant team in this fixture. They racked up five Five Nations wins over England on the bounce and their team sheets were decorated with legendary names: Mike Gibson, Willie-John McBride, Fergus Slattery, Ray McLoughlin, Moss Keane et al.

At wintry, splintery old Twickenham exactly half a century ago it was Gibson’s understated brilliance that captivated this wide-eyed nine-year-old as Ireland scored four tries to one, with Gibson scoring twice and the visiting pack turning the screw.

Johnny Moloney, the alert visiting scrumhalf, capitalised on a couple of English errors to break the game open in the second half before Gibson scored twice himself, quietly popping up at just the right moment on both occasions. Watch the game now and the backs on both sides resemble human twiglets in comparison with today’s gym-shaped professionals. Gibson, though, had the class and poise to have shone in any era.

1982: England 15 Ireland 16

It is hard to believe now but Ireland arrived at Twickenham having not won a Triple Crown – let alone a Grand Slam – since the late 1940s. This was to be the year they ended that barren run, under the leadership of Ciarán Fitzgerald, their army officer captain.


Crucially, they also had the great Ollie Campbell who had edged out Tony Ward as the starting outhalf. Campbell’s boot helped Ireland into a 10-3 lead and his neat interchange of passes with Slattery also set up one of Irish rugby’s most celebrated tries.

Did Gerry ‘Ginger’ McLoughlin really pull the whole Irish pack over the line with him for the game’s crucial try? “Someone said I ran 25 yards,” recalled McLoughlin in an RTÉ documentary three years ago. “I only ran about four. The ball went through about four pairs of hands ... I happened to come along at the end of it.”

1994: England 12 Ireland 13

Ireland had not won at Twickenham for 12 years when they turned up to face an England team unbeaten at their home stadium since 1988. The visitors needed someone to break the mould and duly found their hero in the shape of wing Simon Geoghegan.

Variously described by the late Bill McClaren as “a mad octopus” and “as quick as a trout up a burn”, he did not always see much ball in a difficult era for Ireland. On this particular day, though, the visitors returned a Rob Andrew drop-out with purpose and generated precious quick ball for their lurking backs. By the time Richard Wallace passed to him the English cover was streaming across the field but Geoghegan skinned Tony Underwood and then surged past Jon Callard’s tackle to score. Sadly, a chronic toe injury brought a halt to Geoghegan’s Test career in 1996 at the age of 27.

2004: England 13 Ireland 19

Context was also everything a decade later. England were world champions, unbeaten at home in five years, but their all-conquering team was starting to break up. When Brian O’Driscoll made a throwaway reference to Ireland hoping to disappoint the “prawn sandwich brigade” at Twickenham, however, it stirred the pre-match pot nicely. “I think you’ll see a big display from England,” retorted Clive Woodward. “We do our talking on the pitch. I’ve nothing to say to Brian O’Driscoll, apart from that I don’t eat prawn sandwiches. I prefer chicken and tomato.”

The rank 8-1 outsiders, however, were about to make him eat his words. In the 50th minute the outstanding Gordon D’Arcy made a fine midfield break 65 metres out to launch a multiphase attack that resulted in the fullback Girvan Dempsey scoring in the left corner. It put Ireland, coached by Eddie O’Sullivan, on the road to a first Triple Crown for 19 years.

2006: England 24 Ireland 28

Another O’Sullivan-coached team, another Irish Triple Crown. This time it was their big winger Shane Horgan who stole the show with two tries, the second in the 78th minute to wipe out England’s 24-21 lead. Ronan O’Gara’s deft chip and a fast-moving Brian O’Driscoll put Horgan away initially, only for a fine tackle by Lewis Moody to stop him just short. Ireland recycled the ball, though, and this time Horgan stretched through another Moody tackle and grounded the ball to the satisfaction of the television match official. O’Gara kicked the touchline conversion to compound the pain for England – for whom Steve Borthwick scored his first and only Six Nations try.

“Whether I’m involved or another person comes in we have to get a grip of our structure,” sighed their head coach Andy Robinson, blaming his side’s Six Nations woes on a brutal domestic fixture list. He was to lose his job later in the year.

2018: England 15 Ireland 24

Rarely have England felt less at home on their own patch. With Ireland gunning for a Grand Slam on St Patrick’s Day, it felt like a green day even before the visitors secured only the third Slam in their history. With the championship already secure, Ireland silenced the home support with first-half tries from Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander and Jacob Stockdale to take a 21-5 half-time lead.

Stockdale’s try earned him the individual try-scoring record for a Six Nations season but equally striking was Tadhg Furlong’s all-round ability, the cohesion of Rory Best’s team and their level of detail under Joe Schmidt. The latter, having masterminded three Six Nations titles in five years, predicted Ireland had more success in them. “We have a number of young players and they will only get better.” England, by contrast, trailed in fifth in the championship table, their worst finish in 31 years.

– Guardian