Late, late shows: Looking back at five of Ireland’s most dramatic finishes
Ireland are no strangers to late euphoria – and late heartbreak – when the clock runs out
Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara scores a drop goal in the dying minutes against Wales to secure the 2009 Six Nations title for Ireland. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
One game down in the 2018 Six Nations and already Ireland have had their fill of drama. Johnny Sexton’s drop goal with the last kick of the game to give Joe Schmidt’s side a 15-13 victory over France in Paris probably didn’t do much good for the heart but Irish rugby has a history of this, in both good and bad ways.
Ireland 18 Australia 19 - October 20th, 1991
It was the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup, it was Lansdowne Road and Ireland were on the brink of history. Ahead of the game not many people gave Ciaran Fitzgerald’s side a prayer with the formidable Wallabies expected to ease to victory. However, that’s not how sport works. Ireland matched Australia hit-for-hit and, with five minutes to go, Gordon Hamilton made a lung-bursting dash down the left wing to dive into the corner and send the Ireland fans into raptures. With an 18-15 lead and just a few minutes to go, surely the home side were set for an unexpected semi-final.
No. The best teams are the best teams for a reason. After winning a penalty, Michael Lynagh tapped and went, catching the Ireland defence off guard. A quick exchange of passes moved the Wallabies right up to the tryline where Lynagh was able to get it back and bounce over the line, breaking Irish hearts.
Ireland 17 France 20 - February 11th, 2007
On what was already an historic day for Irish rugby and Irish sport given that it was the first ever rugby match played at Croke Park, this occasion didn’t quite have the ending everybody wanted. Trailing at half-time, Ireland kicked into gear in the second half with Ronan O’Gara scoring a try and kicking four penalties to give Ireland a 17-13 lead with just three minutes to go. The much-fancied French were there for the taking and Ireland’s championship hopes looked rosy. But then stepped up Vincent Clerc. With the Ireland defence at sixes and sevens, Clerc burst through and dived over the line for a try and Lionel Beauxis converted to make it 20-17.
Wales 15 Ireland 17 - March 21st, 2009
Finally we get to a time when Ireland were on the right end of a dramatic finish. And what a finish it was. No one will ever forget that fateful day in Cardiff in 2009 when Ronan O’Gara stepped up with 61 years of history on his shoulders. With five wins from five the Grand Slam was on the line for Ireland but, trailing 6-0 at half time, there was work to do. Brian O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe scored second half tries to leave Ireland on the brink but then, when Stephen Jones kicked his third and fourth penalties of the game, following them up with a drop-goal five minutes from time, it looked like Wales had denied Ireland and claimed a Triple Crown for themselves. Step forward, Ronan O’Gara. As Ireland went through the phases with a brick wall Welsh defence in front of them, O’Gara got into position and was fed the ball. One swing of the right foot and Ireland’s Grand Slam dream was complete.
France 20 Ireland 22 - March 15th, 2014
Finally they did it. A full 14 years after Ireland’s last win on French soil, they came and conquered in Paris. And what an occasion it was. A thrilling two-point win was enough for Ireland to seal the Six Nations title and see Brian O’Driscoll bow out of international rugby in the most fitting fashion. While the drama didn’t come in the form of late scores for Ireland, it came instead in French missed opportunities. First, Jean-Marc Doussain missed a late penalty before Damien Chouly had a last-minute try disallowed for a forward pass. It marked the perfect end to Joe Schmidt’s first season in charge and, as he so often has, the coach had Johnny Sexton to thank after the Leinster man’s 17-point haul at the Stade de France led Ireland to a famous victory that few will forget.
France 10 Ireland 9 - February 13th, 2016
Far from the most thrilling game, but late heartbreak nonetheless. It was the game in which Ireland’s title chances slipped from their grasp after dropping points in a draw with Wales the previous week. Facing an inexperienced French side Ireland frittered away chances galore before the home side’s bench made the difference in the second half. Pushing Ireland to the limit with consistent powerful attacks, the dam would eventually burst as Maxime Medard crashed over for a game-winning try with 10 minutes to go and Jules Plisson’s conversion secured victory for France.