Was it the greatest game ever played?
By Scrum's Australian editor Tim Brimblecombe
July 17, 2000
Two days after the siren sounded to end Saturday's extraordinary Bledisloe Cup clash at Stadium Australia and the argument whether this was the greatest game of rugby ever played shows no signs of abating.
Purists are pointing fingers at a few errors and a lack of defence. And where was the good old-fashioned battle up front in the scrums?
Their opponents have just one reply - who cares! As far as they're concerned, a world record rugby crowd, a remarkable Australian comeback, 10 tries, big Jonah Lomu at his destructive best and a game played at a blinding pace qualify it as the greatest of them all.
What qualities, then, does a match need for it to be given the "great" status? You only need to go back just a few years to discover that the claim for the greatest game of all is a tough one to judge. Depending on how you like your rugby and what country you're from then the list will be endless. Consider these as just a small entrée (with a strong slant from Down-Under).
It was hard to find an Australian supporter not booking himself into a coronary unit after the Wallabies' extra-time battle against South Africa in last year's World Cup semi-final at Twickenham. Jannie de Beer's sideline penalty on full-time to level the scores; Stephen Larkham's field-goal. As far as tension goes, this game was the mother of all nail-biters.
Or was it the 1995 World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand at Johannesburg's Ellis Park? One team, one nation and one all mighty field-goal from Springbok flyhalf Joel Stransky brought with it political significance, at the time anyway, that transcended a mere sporting event.
In terms of monumental upsets, consider France's freakish comeback in the second World Cup semi-final against the All Blacks at Twickenham. Trailing 24-10, France defied all the odds to claw back and score a stunning 43-31 upset.
And what about little George Gregan's mighty tackle on the death on Jeff Wilson in Sydney in 1994. Wilson had skilfully evaded three Wallaby defenders in their 22 and was as good as over the line when Gregan slammed into the All Blacks winger like a freight train, jolting the ball forward and giving Australia a 20-16 victory.
If it's simply stylish, exquisite rugby you want, it's hard to go past the 1987 World Cup semi-final between Australia and France at Sydney's Concord Oval. The Wallabies led 24-21 before Didier Camberabero levelled with a penalty. With two minutes to go, France launched a final run. The ball passed through 11 pairs of hands before the Serge Blanco evaded desperate Wallaby hooker Tom Lawton to claim victory with a superb try in the corner.
Passion is an item that has dominated so many Five Nations battle, and there was no better example than during the 1989-90 Championships. Murrayfield to be precise and Scotland were facing a strong England line-up. The Scots won 13-7 after Tony Stanger's try and Scott Hastings' dramatic tackle on Rory Underwood when the England winger seemed destined to score. It was only the Scots' second Grand Slam since 1925. It was a day when Flower of Scotland reverberated around Murrayfield endlessly as captain David Sole led his team to a famous victory.
It's impossible to go through any list of great games without mentioning David Campese at some point. The 1991 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand at Dublin's Lansdowne Road comes to mind immediately. It was Campo's finest hour. There was the mesmerising angled run to score that had great All Black winger John Kirwin bamboozled. And who will forget the weaving run before the no-look pass for a try-bound Tim Horan?
Still at the same World Cup, and what about flyhalf Michael Lynagh's great escape in the quarter-final against Ireland. Flanker Gordon Hamilton scored in the 72nd minute to put Ireland ahead 18-15 and it seemed the Wallabies on the next plane home. Australia needed a miracle and it was Lynagh who provided it. Inexcusably, Ireland twice failed to find touch allowing for the Wallabies to set the platform for a final raid in the Irish 22. The ball was spun along the backline and finally again to Lynagh, who had looped around, for the match-winning try.
There you go. There are plenty of other great battles between the All Blacks and Springboks that are more than worthy, and not forgetting the many other Five Nations contests rich with passion. So let the argument rage.
But for mine, Saturday night was the best game of rugby I have ever watched. It was exhilarating, played at a furious pace for the entire 80 minutes. So furious, that the defence of both sides simply failed to keep up. And I didn't even mind when the All Blacks won.
The best athletes in the world will converge on Stadium Australia in two months for the Olympic Games. I reckon the stadium has already seen its first gold medal performance.
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