Five Of The Biggest Ever Upsets At The Six Nations

Five Of The Biggest Ever Upsets At The Six Nations
England's Chris Oti celebrates with team-mates during the 1988 Championship when it was known as the Five Nations (© PA Images)

The 2019 Rugby World Cup was littered with jaw dropping upsets, from Uruguay catching Fiji cold in Kamaishi, Japan shocking Ireland in Shizuoka then skittling Scotland in Yokohama.

Even the showpiece final took all but head coach Rassie Erasmus by surprise when his inspired Springboks floored what had been a peerless England.

That tournament has raised the bar for the Six Nations, yet this grand old competition, the game’s oldest rugby championship that harks back to 1882, has the trademark on logic-defying results that tilted the rugby world on its axis.

Although none are quite as startling as Japan’s last gasp win over South Africa in the 2015 World Cup – arguably the greatest ever rugby union upset – we wind back the clock on the iconic Six Nations tournament to pick its greatest upsets of all time.

Italy 34-20 Scotland, Stadio Flaminio, 2000

Call it beginner’s luck. The Azzurri marked their Six Nations debut with an emphatic victory over Scotland in Rome. At 250/1 championship outsiders, Italy weren’t given a hope against the reigning holders, yet fly-half Diego Dominguez put in a faultless display, kicking 29 of the home side’s 34 points, including a hat-trick of audacious drop-goals.

Italy struggled to match those heady heights in their remaining four matches and wound up with the wooden spoon, a badge of dishonour they’ve earned 14 times out of the 19 Six Nations they’ve played, yet this was the perfect way to silence the doubters and doomsters who tried to block their inclusion in the expanded tournament.

England 35-3 Ireland, Twickenham, 1988

England vs Ireland is one of the great sporting rivalries, but the 1988 Five Nations had been a shameful affair for England up to this point, most memorable for a beer-soaked Dean Richards stumbling down Edinburgh’s Princes Street with Scotland’s John Jeffrey, grubbering the Calcutta Cup along the cobbles. On the field, despite having just edged the Scots in a forgettable kick fest, England had lost to France and Wales and were yet to register a single try in the tournament – and hadn’t scored one at the home of rugby for two years.

At half-time, trailing 3-0, it didn’t look like that drought would end until replacement scrum half Richard Harding sparked the match and his side into life. Harding teed up two tries for 22-year-old Chris Oti – England’s first black player for 80 years – before the Wasps winger scored a blistering third and England notched up their highest score for 50 years. Oti’s hat-trick try was also significant for inspiring the first impromptu chorus of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot that has since become a fan favourite.

Wales 32-31 England, Wembley, 1999

Wales’ record 30-3 demolition of a Grand Slam chasing England in 2013 was notable for the one-sided scoreline, but it was preceded 14 years earlier, at Wembley Stadium of all places, by a jinking run from centre Scott Gibbs that will live longer in the memory.

In 1999 England were again denied a Grand Slam by the Welsh, playing their home matches in north London while their new Cardiff stadium was being erected. With England leading by six points and the game slipping into injury time, the Welsh pocket rocket Gibbs carved through four tackles to break English hearts and gift the last Five Nations title to Scotland on points difference.

Ireland 20-32 England, Aviva Stadium, 2019

Dublin, so often the scene of English rugby heartbreak, was transformed into the stage for one of head coach Eddie Jones’ finest victories. Ireland had just toppled world champions New Zealand in an unbeaten, imperious autumn. They were on a run of 12 home wins on the bounce and 18 victories from their past 19.

England hadn’t scored a try in Ireland in eight years. But they set that straight within 95 seconds of kick-off. Manu Tuilagi, a man reborn, flew off the back of a lineout to set a dominant tone for the visitors and Jonny May scored from the resulting move.

A second-half Henry Slade intercept sealed a bonus point victory for England and with it extinguished Ireland’s hopes of backing up their 2018 triumph. It was only England’s second Six Nations win in Dublin since 2003. So one sided was the encounter, the only surprise was that England didn’t win by a bigger margin.

Italy 22-21 France, Stadio Flaminio, 2011

It’s only fair the Six Nations’ eternal whipping boys have the final say on historic upsets. Following in Dominguez’s kicking boots, this time it was Mirco Bergamasco who pulled off the ultimate Italian job in the Eternal City. Les Blues were the defending Grand Slam champions, Italy had endured an eight-try thumping by England earlier in the competition and had only beaten their continental neighbours once before in 32 games.

Yet the hosts fought their way back from 12 points down to earn a shot for glory from the touchline in the 74th minute. The curly-haired Bergamasco duly stepped up to slot the kick, his fifth of the day, to give the Azzurri the lead. Five heart-stopping minutes and a missed French drop-kick later and the final whistle blew, sparking a wild roar from the crowd worthy of the Colosseum itself.

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