A photo finish
September 9, 2009
Stephen Jones watches his penalty to deprive Ireland of a Grand Slam drop short of the bar © Getty Images
With the 2009 Tri-Nations threatening to go down to the wire after Australia's victory over South Africa in Brisbane, we take a look back at some of the closest finishes in world rugby.
From five-way ties in the Five Nations to last-day glory in the southern hemisphere's premier competition, all the bases are covered in our latest Scrum Seven.
1973 Five Nations - Shared by England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales
With the escalating political crisis in Ireland ending the 1972 Five Nations early, Wales went in to the tournament as reigning champions following their 1971 Grand Slam. In 1973 they were met by four sides determined to relieve them of the honour and they very nearly succeeded.
Wales finished top of the table due to their superior points difference but in a unique twist all five teams were tied together on four points after notching two wins apiece. Wales were felled 10-9 by Scotland at Murrayfield and 12-3 by France at the Parc des Princes, while Ireland downed France and England.
The English collected the wooden spoon, paying the price for a heavy five-try defeat to Wales at the National Stadium in Cardiff.
2004 Tri-Nations - Won by South Africa
In the closest Tri-Nations tournament in history, decided only by bonus-points, South Africa picked up their second title with a thrilling last-day win over Australia.
A winner-takes-all clash at Kings Park saw the Springboks prevail 23-19
The Wallabies were in pole position heading in to the final round and were poised for a comeback win in Durban after tries from Stirling Mortlock, Lote Tuqiri and George Smith had hauled them back in to contention after trailing 23-7.
2007 Six Nations - Won by France
Ireland, Triple Crown winners in 2004 and 2006, were poised to clinch their first Six Nations title as the clock ticked towards 80 minutes at the Stadio Flaminio. Four teams had started the day in with a shout of the title, Ireland, France, England and Italy, following their 37-17 demolition of Scotland at Murrayfield.
Ireland lead 51-17 as time ran out, leaving France requiring a 30-point margin against Scotland to steal the title, but their failure to clear the ball to touch and end the game cost them dearly. Italian fullback Roland de Marigny was their tormentor, streaking away to score a converted try and reducing the French target to 23 points.
Elvis Vermeulen scored a late try to give France a 46-19 win over the Scots. England needed a miraculous 57-point win over Wales to overhaul the French but James Hook produced a full-house in a 27-18 victory for the Welsh and the title stayed in France.
Six Nations 2009 - Won by Ireland
Ireland's cathartic release came in 2009, but only after a thrilling, brutal 17-15 victory over Wales in Cardiff. The Irish had their Grand Slam, for the first time since Jackie Kyle, Karl Mullen and the class of 1948, but it was a matter of feet and inches.
Wales, having conceded their hopes of back-to-back Grand Slams with a defeat to France on a Friday night in Paris, were gunning for the Triple Crown and an unlikely Championship. Hopes of the Championship had long since vanished by the time Stephen Jones lined up a last-minute penalty from halfway, but his kick would have secured the Triple Crown and broken Irish hearts.
It fell just below the crossbar, sealing Ireland's triumph and an unlikely fourth place finish for the reigning champions.
Tri-Nations 2000 - Won by Australia
In a series that featured two of the great last-gasp finishes - Jonah Lomu's winner against the Wallabies in Sydney and John Eales returning the favour with a penalty in Wellington - the final reckoning could have gone either way.
Eales' world champion Wallabies picked up their first title after a 19-18 win over South Africa in Durban, leaving New Zealand cursing a dramatic 46-40 loss to the same opponents in Johannesburg. Victory for the All Blacks would have given them the title, but as it was Chris Latham's late try at King's Park proved to be decisive.
Tri-Nations 2001 - Won by Australia
The following year, with the opinion between the sides clearly being that a two-point margin in the table was about right, the Wallabies toasted success in the closest Tri-Nations to date. Eales retired after a tumultuous 29-26 win over the All Blacks in a winner-takes-all showdown in Sydney, No.8 Toutai Kefu picking a decisive late try.
The decisive result for the Wallabies came in Perth, where a try from Nathan Grey and three penalties by Matt Burke secured a 14-14 draw with the Springboks, who had won the tussle between the teams in Pretoria. The All Blacks lost out twice to Australia though - yielding a two-point gap at the top come the final whistle.
1886 Home Nations Championship - Shared by England and Scotland
In the 1886 Home Nations, England and Scotland had to be separated by points difference after notching two wins apiece and drawing in a 0-0 thriller at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh.
The Scots secured top spot after a big 4-0 win (three goals, two tries and a drop-goal under the old scoring rules) against Ireland while England's tries scored against Wales and Ireland.
In fact, England claimed a share of the spoils despite only scoring a single point during the whole tournament, their tries counting for nothing as goals were the order of the day in 1886. Jonny Wilkinson would have fitted in well.
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