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Was This The Most Agonising 'What Might Have Been' In Irish Rugby?

Was This The Most Agonising 'What Might Have Been' In Irish Rugby?
Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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Euan Murray could have been Scottish rugby's answer to Gary Mackay.

With four and a half minutes remaining, the Scots, trailing by 25 points, parked on the French line, siphoned the ball across the pitch and the bulky prop powered over the line in the place where the winger should usually be. In living rooms all over Ireland, people celebrated a Scottish try as never before.

On a dreamy, sunny day in Rome, Ireland ran in a hail of tries to present the French with a stiff challenge. After a slack first half, in which Ireland seemed to score a try on every (rare) occasion they went forward (for at least two of the tries there were big suggestions of a forward pass in the lead-up), Ireland lead 20-12 at the break.

In the second half, they ran riot. Hickie sped in for a brace of tries, Girvan Dempsey grabbed his second of the game and Horgan and O'Gara also scored.

However, despite all this, by the game's end, the player's faces were etched with worry.


With the clock ticking past the 80 minute mark, Ireland led by 34 points and decided to turn down a three-point opportunity, opting to go in search of another try.


In one of those incidents that makes one wonder if the universe is trying to tell you something, the Italians not only robbed the ball but then proceeded to launch an uncharacteristically devastating counter-attack, which ended with South African-Italian Roland De Marigny touching the ball down in the corner. The TMO ignored suggestions of a double-movement and urged the referee to award the try.

The feeling of foreboding was palpable.



The French were now tasked with defeating the Scots by 24 points or more on their own ground. Well, 24 points is a lot, that's a bit of an ask you might think.

But, unfortunately for Ireland, the Scots were as bad as they've ever been. A rousing try-less victory over an out-of-sorts Wales aside, they endured a fairly typical Six Nations made worse than usual by conceding three tries in the first six minutes of their home match against Italy.

The task of only losing to France by 23 points was one no one could be truly confident they'd achieve.


They scored a try in the opening ten minutes through Nikki Walker and the nation's hearts were lifted. However, that proved to be a mirage reminiscent of Gary Halpin scoring the first try against New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup.

After sixty-two minutes it looked done and dusted. Scotland were shit and the French were gleefully making hay. With Pierre Mignoni pulling the strings at scrum half, France ran in tries through Harinordoquy, Jauzion, Marty, Heymans and then prop Olivier Milloud.

They had seen and passed out their target in 62 minutes. That was that then. Another second placed finish for Ireland.


However, the French, in that dangerously casual way of theirs, decided to tempt fate in the last twenty minutes. They stopped pushing for more tries and the Scots got to mount a few attacks of their own.


With less than five minutes left on the clock, Euan Murray famously barrelled over the corner.

It was back on! Ireland were going to be champions. The committee men down in Rome no doubt got ready to present the replica trophy to the suited-up Irish players in their hotel.


France won their own restart and Irish supporters immediately went from celebration mode to fearing the worst all over again.

They had won a restart in similar circumstances in Croke Park and people knew, in their heart of hearts, what was coming. The French had greeted Murray's try with a phlegmatic shrug and set about making sure of the championship from the restart.

They ground inexorably towards the line. There was a wholly pragmatic lack of flair involved as the forwards pushed the Scots back on their own line. The clock was well past eighty minutes now.


A pile of French players toppled over the try-line, with a phalanx of Scottish scrambling frantically to get underneath them. There was no sign of a ball.

Craig Joubert blew his whistle and went upstairs to ask Belfast's own Simon McDowell whether he could see any reason NOT to award the try.

Over in the giant cobbled square in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome, green-clad Irish supporters stood tensed and nervous, watching the big screen, waiting for the verdict to come through.

Then the power went. To quote reader Steve Collins, there followed the 'loudest groan ever heard.'

The television cameras showed Elvis Vermeulen grasping the ball to his chest as the French heaved over, while a couple of Scottish players attempted to get underneath him and prevent him from grounding. No available television camera could tell us conclusively whether the ball was grounded.

However, the wording of the question was crucial. It meant that McDowell was to assume the ball was grounded unless he could prove otherwise.

Sure enough, after watching the movement over and over, a reedy Belfast accent delivered the words, 'you may award the try'.


The power came back on in the Piazza del Popolo. Cue an even bigger groan.

In a scene which has echoes of that Sunday Times snap from last year of the dismayed English players watching the France-Ireland finale in Rome, the Irish camp let out a horrified groan as McDowell gave his verdict. The RTE cameras were on location, and the camera zeroed in on Ronan O'Gara, who greeted the verdict fairly impassively. He just whipped around and left the room.

That Ireland somehow conspired not to win the 2007 Six Nations championship remains a source of regret to many veterans of the Eddie O'Sullivan era.

Shane Horgan, who played his last game for Ireland in 2008, said on Second Captains last year that he'd have traded all three of his Triple Crowns for one Six Nations championship win.


 See also: The Story Of Ireland's Forgotten Five Nations Title

Read more: Under Which Referee Do Ireland Have Their Best And Worst Record


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