The Games That Defined a Nation

It’s been a frenetic season; hard at times to catch one’s breath.   It started and finished in New Zealand, kicking off with an emotional roller-coaster of a World Cup and ending with a freakish three-game series in which Ireland went from almost creating history to abject humiliation seemingly in the blink of an eye.  In between we had a glum enough Six Nations and a second successive Heineken Cup win for Leinster.  We had the rise of Ulster and the end of an era, and dawn of a new one for Munster.  Throw in the politicking of the IRFU’s foreign-player rule-changes and it’s been one chaotic season.

Between the hand-wringing over Deccie’s selection policy, Ireland’s propping crisis and the unceasing, unyielding nature of the rugby calendar, it’s hard at times to keep the bigger picture in view – to get your head out of your season ticket holder commemorative scarf for long enough to take stock of the whole situation.

So over the next month we’re going to take a step back from the hullabaloo and ask: Where is Irish Rugby And How Did It Get Here?  From the dawn of professionalism to today’s provincially divided landscape, via 15 years of heroism and heartache, we’re going try to plot its recent history through Eight Matches That Defined Irish Rugby.  These are not he eight best games, the most successful, the most heartbreaking or even the most memorable, but those which, for our money, had the most significance beyond what happened as 30 large men thudded into each other for 80 frenzied minutes.  Of course, you’ll disagree with our choices and opinions, and as ever, we welcome your comments.  Game One follows tomorrow.



  1. Cena2j

     /  July 16, 2012

    Will this include provincial games or only internationals? Or will you do a seperate international list and a provincial list?

    Heres my thoughts (with a mix)

    Ulster HC 99 (1st Irish team in pro era to win something significant)

    France 2000 6N (Brian explodes on the scene!)

    Munster HC Final 06 (Munsters 1st HC and placed them as 1 of the true greats in Europe)

    England 09 6N (this was something else, showed our passion and committment)

    SA 09 Autumn Int’l (Defined we could really go toe-to-toe with the big boys…on our day)

    Leinster v Munster Heineken SF 2009 (Begining of Leinsters supremacy)

    Wales v Ireland WC 2011 (defined that we still can’t make the top 4)

    NZ v Ireland 2012 test 3 (this is one that will define the future for good or ill)

    • Both provincial and international games will feature. Nice list – we’re not going to give any spoliers away, so I won’t comment on any of them. But great to see people already chipping in with what they feel were the defining games! We’re excited about this series, and hoping we get a good back-and-forth with people on it.

  2. Giuseppe

     /  July 16, 2012

    I wonder will it include the Munster Vs Wasps HC Semi in LR in 04? Or Toulouse Vs Leinster 1/4 final in 06?

  3. Degsy

     /  July 16, 2012

    If Lens 1999 features please give plenty of notice so I can go and hide in a dark room for a few days

    • It hasn’t been unfettered joy for the last 15 years, so there will be some old wounds ripped open I suspect…

  4. Shrek

     /  July 16, 2012

    Good idea. A few guesses:
    Scotland 2000 – A new wave of players that went on to backbone Ireland for the next decade.
    Australia 2002 – Beating the world champions (in a bog) showed that on our day we could beat anyone. Plus it was BOD’s first major win as captain (I think).
    England 2004 – Removed any fear of English superiority. Led to 7 wins in 8 years and some pretty iconic moments (Shaggy in ’06 and ’08).
    Munster beating Toulouse in 2000 kickstarted the whole Munster juggernaught, which dragged provincial rugby into the national consciousness.
    Leinster v Quins in 2009 – Showcased the new hard-nosed edge to Leinster’ style. A game they would have lost in previous years. Led to current dominant Leinster team.
    Leinster v Munster 2006 – Gave the impetus to finally get over the line against Biarritz in Cardif. Showed Michael Cheika exactly what needed to be done to harden the Leinster pack.
    France 2009 – Kickstarted the Grand Slam season and removed some of the psychological damage caused by Clerc’s late try in ’07. Firmly established a new wave of players – Bowe, Kearney, Heaslip, Ferris etc.
    England 2000 – Massacre in Twickers ended the careers of a number of great players. Directly lead to the new wave against Scotland.

  5. Ciaran

     /  July 16, 2012

    Going back a bit further than the comments so far, the quarter final against Australia in the 1991 world cup said a lot about the Ireland of the time for me. Played really well but unable to finish the job.

    • The concept is only about games since professionalism…and in that era it seems the problem is as much about inconsistency and lack of a set-up at international level, as about choking.

  6. ooooooooohh, great idea!

  7. I like this game. I can only narrow it down to 13 matches though

    – Ulster Heineken Cup win – showed Irish teams could compete in the professional era
    – RWC defeat to Argentina in Lens – showed that the international team needed to pull up its socks

    – The Paris Spring – the most important Irish rugby player in the professional era (and possibly ever) explodes onto the international stage

    – The miracle match – the Munster myth is etched in stone with their miracle victory over Gloucester in fortress Thomond

    – Twickers trip to Triple Crown – Ireland beats world champions England in Twickenham on the way to a Triple Crown as the national side starts to become a force in international rugby and the Eddie O’Sullivan era takes flight

    – Allez les Bleus – Leinster’s players show what they can do when they play with confidence by beating Toulouse
    – Munster Heineken Cup win – The Munster myth is finally crowned with a Heineken Cup victory

    – Bordeaux bruising – Ireland almost lose to Georgia in the rugby world cup in a match that wrote on Eddie O’Sullivan’s wall as Ireland coach

    – Entrez M. Rognon – Declan Kidney gives the Irish players the belief to beat bogey team France on the way to the historic Grand Slam a nation had waited for years for under EOS
    – Down and dirty at bloodgate – Leinster finally learns the grit and dog required with a gutsy win at the Stoop
    – Ladyboys no more – the baton passes to Leinster as their period of dominance begins with a win over Munster in a memorable match in Croke Park

    – Modern rugby man meets the Millennium – Leinster’s Heineken Cup final victory (their own miracle match) a true vindication of Joe Schmidt’s rugby philosophy and Johnny Sexton’s true coming of age

    – Black Saturday – THE nightmare match as Ireland loses by a record margin to the All Blacks…and a possible turning point for Irish rugby as a nation finally takes a peek behind the curtain and realises that there is no Wizard of Oz, just a Cork schoolteacher and his threadbare coaching team. The players spent 80 minutes clicking their ruby slippers in Hamilton – there is no place like home.

  8. FrontUpRiseUp

     /  July 19, 2012

    Ulster 99 cannot be included simply because the English teams didn’t compete that year a fact consistently forgotten by Ulster fans. HCUP should rightly figure mainly on this list and to be fair, while it sounds ludicrous in todays world, Munster should have the most games simply as they put Irish rugby on the map with their performances against all the odds in Europe. We are two games in out of eight so I think six of the below eight will feature.

    I would push for;

    Munster vs Toulouse 2000-Possibly the biggest upset in European rugby ever.

    Munster vs Biarritz 2006-Red Army finally arrive at the big stage.

    Munster vs Toulouse 2008-Munster plant themselves at the peak of Europe’s powers.

    Ireland vs Wales 2009-Ireland finally banish the pain of missed opportunities with a GS.

    Leinster vs Quins 2009-Far more important than Toulouse (2006) as rather than revert to bottling it at the big stage, Leinster kicked on and have never looked back.

    Ireland vs England 2007-For passion and performance and theatre. A momentous sporting occasion more than anything.

    Leinster vs Munster 2009-The baton passes from Red to Blue in seismic fashion.

    I have made some big omissions and maybe Lens (99) will feature or not but I’ll back it being left out. Irl vs Eng (07) is also more for nostalgia so it could be culled from the list, likewise France in Paris in 2000 with ‘yer man himself’ announcing his arrival on the Test scene. I would get rid of it as it was simply a one-off win not followed up by anything major or consistent. Kind of like Australia (2011) ironically.

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