The Six Nations is one of the highlights of the international rugby union season. Initially, the tournament saw England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France compete against each other but organisers decided to grant Italy entry into the competition in 2000.
Held annually in February and March, it is the pinnacle of international rugby in non-World Cup years. The Six Nations tends to throw up a few shock results, incredible tries and controversial scenes on a regular basis and the 2019 tournament should be no different.
Without further ado, it is time to look back at some of the biggest Six Nations stories over the last two decades.
2000: Italy Prove They Are Six Nations-Worthy On Debut
Critics had doubts over whether or not Italy were capable of holding their own in the Six Nations but the rugby union minnows silenced the doubters.
Italy marked their Six Nations debut with a dominant victory over defending champions Scotland in front of a jubilant home crowd. Priced at 250/1 to win the title, Italy had been given no chance after conceding 196 points at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
Diego Dominguez was central to Italy’s success on that occasion, kicking 29 of his side’s 34 points en route to victory. With six penalty kicks, a conversion and a hat-trick of drop goals, Dominguez produced one of the greatest Six Nations performances of all-time.
Italy fans still look back on that day with fond memories. Unfortunately, that remains their brightest moment after 20 years of competing in the Six Nations.
Nowadays, fans regularly call for Italy to be replaced by Georgia – rugby union’s new upcoming nation. Priced at 5000/1 to win the Six Nations in 2019, Italy’s time may be running out.
2003: England Refuse To Move At Lansdowne Road
Chasing a third Six Nations title in four years, Martin Johnson and co knew that a win would secure England’s first Grand Slam in the modern competition.
Leading his side out in front of an expectant Lansdowne Road, Johnson lined England up on the wrong side of the pitch – refusing to budge when asked to switch.
This meant that Ireland lined up away from the red carpet, causing Irish President Mary McAleese to walk down the pitch. It caused confusion and uproar amongst the Ireland players and fans and that played on their minds before the game had even kicked off.
England went on to win that match 42-6, with incidents before the game giving the visitors a real psychological edge. Later that year, Martin Johnson lifted the Rugby World Cup crown as England captain – much to the delight of English supporters.
We could see Owen Farrell lead this current England side, priced at 4/1 in rugby betting odds, to World Cup glory in 2019.
2009: Ireland Claim First Grand Slam In 61 Years
Ireland had to do it the hard way in 2009 but they did it – their first championship in the Six Nations era and a first Grand Slam in over 60 years. Ronan O’Gara was the conductor from start to finish, creating Tommy Bowe’s try with a precision kick through the defensive line.
If you ask any Ireland fan about the 2009 tournament, chances are they will pay homage to O’Gara’s efforts on that fateful day at the Millennium Stadium.
Trailing Wales by one point with less than three minutes remaining, O’Gara stepped up to write his name into Irish rugby folklore. Welsh fans were heartbroken but Irish supporters were jubilant and partied long into the Cardiff night.
O’Gara was instrumental for Ireland throughout the tournament, scoring more points than anyone else in the competition.
That drop goal will go down in history as one of Irish rugby’s greatest ever moments and with good reason: a first Grand Slam in over 60 years is something to celebrate.
2013: Rampant Wales Stop England's Grand Slam Chariot In Tracks
England strode into Cardiff full of confidence after winning four on the spin – a first Grand Slam success since 2003 beckoned.
However, Wales had other ideas. The hosts had lost at home to Ireland on the opening weekend but knew that victory over England would be enough to retain the Six Nations crown. The Millennium Stadium expected big things and Wales delivered in style.
The noise inside the ground was deafening, with over 74,000 supporters passionately cheering their team on. Wales were relentless from the first minute, notching a penalty with less than two minutes on the clock and that set the tone for the contest.
Alex Cuthbert notched a brace as Wales went on to record a 30-3 victory to send England fans back across the border with their tails between their legs.
That 27-point success remains Wales’ biggest margin of victory over their old rivals. Sports betting odds show Wales at 29/20 to emerge victorious against England in their 2019 Six Nations clash and that match could decide who goes on to win the tournament.
2017: Daly Breaks Welsh Hearts In The Corner
With less than five minutes on the clock, it looked like Wales had done it to England again. Trailing by two points, Eddie Jones’ side turned the ball over in the Welsh 22. It looked like Wales had withstood the English pressure for the time being.
However, British & Irish Lions centre Jonathan Davies opted to kick the ball straight downfield rather than finding touch – giving England a chance to counter attack.
George Ford brought the ball forward before passing on to Owen Farrell. The Saracens star, so often England’s saviour on the big stage, released a perfect flat ball for Elliot Daly to run onto and the then-Wasps winger duly obliged, touching down for a score in the corner.
The travelling English contingent went wild whilst Wales fans were crestfallen. To add insult to injury, Owen Farrell slotted the conversion to extend the lead to five points.
Wales were a beaten side and England saw out the rest of the game to earn a huge win en route to the 2017 title.
2018: Sexton Leaves It Late In Paris
Cometh the 83rd minute, cometh the man. Jonathan Sexton, voted World Rugby’s Player of the Year in 2018, produced a moment of magic to snatch victory for Ireland in Paris back in February 2018.
A drop goal from almost halfway with the clock already past the 80-minute mark helped set the benchmark for Ireland to secure another Grand Slam success.
Ireland had been involved in a brutal arm wrestle with France for 80 minutes, with Les Bleus leading by a solitary two points as the clock ticked into added time.
After 38 phases of play, Ireland had worked the ball into Sexton’s range and the Leinster man slotted over to send the visiting fans into raptures. It was one of those ‘I was there’ moments.
On that day, Sexton scored all 15 of Ireland’s points and that drop goal capped out a perfect individual performance. Ireland then went on to win their four remaining games, including the sweetest of victories over England at Twickenham to secure the Grand Slam.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*