The Six Nations is almost here, so the wait for Northern Hemisphere’s elite to put World Cup disappointment behind them is about to be extinguished as they aim for an explosive start to 2016. Our man Aron Hegarty takes a closer look at seven great opening matches.
From England raising the bar in Cardiff last year to Ronan O’Gara’s drop-goal breaking Italian hearts in 2011 and Damien Traille’s try which crushed Scotland in 2005; some of the most telling moments often occur during the opening round of the competition.
In recent times that has certainly been the case and with holders Ireland hosting Wales, Scotland welcoming England plus France entertaining Italy on the first weekend, we can expect this year’s tournament not to disappoint.
Here are seven of the greatest ever opening matches in the Six Nations Championship:
2014 Six Nations: France 26-24 England
Gael Fickou came off the bench to land the coup d’etat for France in a thrilling contest with England in Paris. The French had led 16-3 after 22 minutes, but England roared back and took a 24-19 lead before 19-year-old Fickou’s converted try with three minutes to go saw Les Bleus escape to victory.
2013 Six Nations: Italy 23-18 France
Italy shocked France at home for the second time in a row having previously beaten the then holders 22-21 in 2011. And like that memorable win, the Azzurri again had to come from behind and defend ferociously to do it in their opening game of the 2013 campaign.
The Italians later upset Ireland in their final match to equal their best competition finish of fourth.
2006 Six Nations: Scotland 20-16 France
Two Sean Lamont tries capped off a fantastic Scottish performance as they stunned France in their 2006 curtain raiser.
In what was then coach Frank Hadden’s first Six Nations’ game, the Scots – who came third; their highest tournament finish to date – produced a superb defensive display to keep eventual winners Les Bleus at bay.
2000 Six Nations: Italy 34-20 Scotland
Tournament newcomers Italy pulled off a historic upset against Five Nations’ champions Scotland in their Six Nations’ debut.
Although the Azzurri would have to wait until 2003 for their next success – a 30-22 opening day home win over Wales – fly-half Diego Dominguez announced Italy’s arrival by kicking 29 points in a famous victory.
2012 Six Nations: Ireland 21-23 Wales
Leigh Halfpenny’s late penalty sealed a thrilling comeback for Wales against a crestfallen Ireland in an enthralling match, where the lead changed five times.
The Welsh followed up this result with a dramatic victory over England at Twickenham and a tense home win against France on their way to a Grand Slam.
2008 Six Nations: England 19-26 Wales
Wales produced a magificant fightback to earn their first win against England at Twickenham since 1988 on their way to another Grand Slam.
Despite trailing 19-6 midway though the second half, the visitors scored 20 unanswered points in coach Warren Gatland’s first match as Brian Ashton’s men collapsed in the final twenty minutes.
2013 Six Nations: Wales 22-30 Ireland
Ireland hung on to win an extraordinary opener in 2013, where they led 30-3 at one point before reigning champions Wales threatened an unlikely comeback.
Incredibly the course of both teams changed dramatically following this match as Ireland narrowly avoided the Wooden Spoon, while Wales staged a remarkable revival to win back-to-back titles – proving nothing is won or lost in the first game!