A kick in the teeth
August 5, 2010
John Eales is mobbed after scoring the winning penalty against New Zealand in 2000 © Getty Images
Jordan Crane John Eales Matt Giteau Gavin Henson Stephen Larkham Morne Steyn Jack van der Schyff Jonny Wilkinson
Ten years ago this week, Australia skipper John Eales stroked over a penalty to beat the All Blacks 24-23 in Wellington. Four minutes into injury time, Eales, a lock of rare quality, found the cutting edge to do what Robbie Deans' current crop of Wallabies hope to do against the odds in Christchurch on Saturday. With the booming boot of Eales in mind we take a look back at seven more last-gasp swings of the boot - some which went down in history for all the right reasons, and a couple which did for the wrong ones.
The 1955 Lions were a flamboyant, thrilling side marshalled by the great Cliff Morgan at fly-half and featuring the rapier-like skills of Tony O 'Reilly out wide. Both scored tries in their first Test victory over South Africa, a game which could have been won in the dying seconds by Boks fullback Van der Schyff, who had landed the winning drop-goal for Western Transvaal in their victory over the Lions in the first match of the tour. His conversion to Theuns Briers' second try in the 52nd minute of the second-half sailed wide, leaving the Lions with a 1-0 series lead and victory in one of the all-time classic Tests. The game drew an estimated 95,000 fans to Ellis Park, with the Lions breaking the record for most points scored against the Boks in a Test to that point, but it was the image of Van der Schyff's dejection which stuck in the memory.
It's worse in slow-motion. There goes Lions replacement Ronan O'Gara, bloodied and dazed, careering into an airborne Fourie du Preez, conceding a last-gasp penalty and the series. It took, forgive the cliché, nerves of steel to land this monster kick from halfway and Steyn showed that he belonged at the very top of the game with one languid swing. He'd been doing it all season for the Bulls as they romped to the Super 14 title and on his home ground there was a sickening inevitability for Lions fans, and unbridled joy for the soon-to-be Tri-Nations champion Springboks. "I was knocked out and didn't really know what I was doing," O'Gara later revealed. "I just remember trying to throw myself at Fourie and I couldn't see him properly, you know. So I missed him. That [decision] doesn't cost me a second thought because I'd do the exact same tomorrow. People ask me would you not kick it out but it never entered my head to kick the ball out. I couldn't see what a draw would do for anyone."
Wilkinson's wrong-foot drop-goal deep into extra time brought the World Cup to England and confirmed his place as one of his country's greats. Lote Tuqiri and Jason Robinson had traded tries in normal time of a nip and tuck final, but they seemed as recent as the last ice age when Matt Dawson's pass nestled in Wilkinson's grip. After the final whistle he began 18 months in the wilderness thanks to his catastrophic bad luck with injuries while England have lurched from disappointment to disappointment. Still, they'll always have Sydney.
Rugby's foray into the high-pressure world of the penalty shootout was a gut-wrenching piece of drama which left Leicester's Jordan Carne whooping his way into the Heineken Cup final and venerable Cardiff flanker Martyn Williams with his head in his hands. The Blues had fought back from 26-12 down with two tries, to Jamie Roberts and Tom James, in the final minutes only for a painstaking extra-time period to end level. Leicester wing Johne Murphy's penalty swipe handed Tom James the chance to win it for the Blues, but when he hooked his shot wide the platform was laid for the nerveless Crane.
Drop-goals are by their nature painful for opposition fans to watch. The seconds invariably are ticking away and precious inches are being gained by bruising pick and drives. Not this one. While the result broke South African hearts, Stephen Larkham's long-range effort to help Australia into the Rugby World Cup final was a brilliant moment of individuality from a famously 'non-kicking' fly-half. The ball sailed between the uprights from all of 40 metres as extra time wore on, smashing the scoreboard deadlock created by the metronomic boots of Matt Burke and Springbok fly-half Jannie de Beer. A special kick from a player with a knack for unlocking games at the right moment.
If Andy Robinson goes on to guide his Scotland side to fame and fortune, he will look back fondly on this amazing defensive effort against the touring Wallabies. A 75th minute drop-goal had take Scotland 9-3 ahead, with the home side having made over twice as many tackles as their opponents. Their resolve broke only once, in the 80th minute, when Wallabies centre Ryan Cross pounced for the only try of the game. Murrayfield waited as the misfiring Matt Giteau, who had already missed two penalties and a drop-goal, lined up a routine conversion and hooked it wide. The win was Scotland's - for the first time in 27 years.
Shaved legs, spiky hair and all, Gavin Henson was the toast of Wales after landing this monster kick to defeat England in the opening game of their 2005 Grand Slam. Henson set the tone for the game with two massive tackles on Mathew Tait and had the final say. With 75 minutes on the clock, Wales trailed 9-8 thanks to three Charlie Hodgson penalties cancelling out a Shane Williams try and Stephen Jones three-pointer. All flash in his silver boots, Henson was bang on from 48 metres, sparking wild celebrations and the shortest of golden periods in Welsh rugby.
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