On this day 10 years ago, the first rugby match at the sparkling new Aviva Stadium took place. The O2 Challenge – an exhibition game of 18-20 year olds where a combined Leinster/Ulster side thumped their Connacht/Munster counterparts 68-0 – was hardly a classic, but thankfully the Dublin venue has played host to many more memorable occasions in the years since.
Some purists argue that the Aviva Stadium, with it’s shimmering glass exterior and modern amenities – a burrito bar being among the latest additions – will never boast the charm or character of the old Lansdowne Road, which was demolished in 2007 to make way for the new stadium.
But with the revamped Aviva Stadium came a glorious new era for Irish Rugby. Since the stadium first opened its doors in 2010, Ireland have won three Six Nations titles – you have to go all the way back to 1999 and 1985 for their previous two wins – a Grand Slam and recorded a first ever home win against the All Blacks.
With Leinster also establishing themselves as one of the leading lights in Europe – winning European Cups in 2011, 2012 and 2018 – it’s been an unprecedented period of success for Irish rugby, with the Aviva Stadium housing some of the most memorable moments of the last decade.
Here, we look at 10 of the best from the first 10 years of the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland 24 England 8, 2011
England came to Dublin looking to secure a first Grand Slam since 2003, but left with their tail between their legs after a comprehensive Ireland victory.
This wasn’t the most complete Irish performance, but it was a significant win at a time where the team found themselves under pressure following some very mixed showings. After scraping past Italy and Scotland while losing to France and Wales, nobody really knew what to expect from Ireland as the champions came to town.
To the delight of a home crowd still getting used to their new surroundings, a surprisingly tepid England were lucky to only leak two tries, which arrived courtesy of Tommy Bowe and Brian O’Driscoll. Speaking of leaks, the fact that an official video marking England’s expected Grand Slam success did the rounds before the game only made this win all the sweeter for Irish supporters.
Clermont Auvergne 15 Toulon 16, 2013
The first Heineken Cup final to be played at the Aviva Stadium saw Toulon take on Clermont Auvergne in an all-French affair.
It was the first time European rugby’s showpiece event had come to Dublin since the 2003 decider at the old Lansdowne Road – another all-French meeting as Toulouse beat Perpignan.
Eleven points from the boot of a 33-year-old Johnny Wilkinson helped Toulon to a 16-15 win, sparking a new era of dominance for the French giants – they would go on to become the first team to win the trophy three times in a row – as the Aviva proved itself to be an ideal venue for the biggest games.
Ireland 22 New Zealand 24, 2013
The game that kick-started a thrilling rivalry between Ireland and the world’s greatest team. Ireland had never beaten the All Blacks and had enjoyed their fair share of humiliations. A year previously Declan Kidney saw his team picked apart 42-10, 22-19 and 60-0 during a summer tour of New Zealand.
Yet no defeat tasted as bitter as their 2013 meeting. With new head coach Joe Schmidt at the helm, Ireland raced into a 19-0 lead with just 2o minutes played. A Johnny Sexton penalty just after the half-hour mark would be their only other score as New Zealand twisted the screw. 22-7 down at half-time, an Aaron Cruden penalty and a converted Ben Franks try set the game up for a gripping finish.
The All Blacks pierced the Irish defence again with the clock in the red as Ryan Crotty went over in the corner to level the scores at 22-22. Then the real drama unfolded. Cruden missed the conversion that would win New Zealand the game, only for referee Nigel Owens to order a retake, judging some Irish players to have broken the line too quickly.
Never give an All Black a second chance.
Leinster 23 Munster 34, 2014
While there have been some great battles between Leinster and Munster at the Aviva, this one felt particularly special.
Munster had been struggling for form under new coach Anthony Foley, but against their biggest rivals they rose to the occasion to record a first win in Dublin since 2008.
Conor Murray delivered a man of the match performance as Munster somehow survived four yellow cards to beat Leinster by double digits, with first half tries from James Cronin, Robin Copeland and Ian Keatley setting up a 19-point lead at half-time.
Leinster would reassert their dominance in the years to come, but at the time, this win was an important statement from a Munster team who had been under-performing for far too long.
Ireland 9 New Zealand 21, 2016
The Ireland of 2016 were a completely different beast to the Ireland of 2013. With two Six Nations titles under their belt Schmidt had taken the squad to a new level, and arguably their greatest moment under the Kiwi up to that point had come just two weeks previously, with Ireland beating New Zealand 40-29 in Chicago. It was their first victory over the All Blacks in 111 years of trying.
A fortnight later New Zealand came to Dublin with a point to prove, boosted by the return of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock. The reinforced visitors made that point emphatically. Referee Jaco Peyper came in for heavy criticism after a bruising, sometimes violent encounter which saw Robbie Henshaw, Johnny Sexton and CJ Stander all removed through injury inside the opening 22 minutes.
There were some scintillating individual performances, but ill-discipline ran through a New Zealand team who conceded 14 penalties and saw Aaron Smith and Malakai Fekitoa sin-binned. Yet as great teams do, they still produced enough to win despite Ireland dominating territory and possession. It might not have been the most high-quality match played at the Aviva, but anybody who was there won’t forget it any time soon.
Ireland 13 England 9, 2017
The similarities with 2011 were there for all to see. England were coming to Dublin to win a Grand Slam (there were Grand Slam champions t-shirts on sale before the game). An Irish team struggling for form were determined to stop them.
There was much confusion before the game when Jamie Heaslip was a late withdrawal from the Ireland starting team – no-one would have guessed we would never see him in a green jersey again – but Schmidt’s team were focused and well-organised as they delivered their best performance of the campaign to recored a 13-9 win.
In Heaslip’s absence Peter O’Mahony came into the team, and his brilliant lineout steal in the 74th minute remains one of the iconic moments of the Schmidt years.
Ireland 16 New Zealand 9, 2018
Ireland’s finest moment under Schmidt. A brilliantly executed game-plan, capped by a glorious Jacob Stockdale try straight off the training ground, saw Ireland create history with a first home win against New Zealand.
While Stockdale’s try provided the highlight reel moment, there were huge performances all over the pitch. A remarkable steal from Peter O’Mahony – who arguably enjoyed his greatest game in a green jersey – just after the hour mark led to a standing ovation as he limped off the turf. James Ryan, Rob Kearney and Tadgh Furlong were also immense on an evening that led to New Zealand boss Steve Hansen describing Ireland as the best team in the world.
He may have been playing to the crowd, but the discipline and workrate displayed by Schmidt’s team was certainly worthy of the highest praise.
A special night for Irish rugby.
Leinster 30 Saracens 19, 2018
A tight game saw Leinster lead this Champions Cup quarter-final tie 13-12 at the break, but following the restart Leinster kicked things up a notch. Seventeen unanswered points in a stunning second half period saw them pull clear, with James Lowe and flanker Dan Leavy leading the way.
Leinster had impressed throughout the pool stages of the competition, but the manner in which they dismantled the holders was a real signal of how far Cullen’s team had come.
Leinster 40 Scarlets 32, 2018
It was no surprise that while Ireland were enjoying massive success under Joe Schmidt, Leinster were also thriving.
Supplying the spine of Schmidt’s Ireland team through the likes of Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw and Rob Kearney, Leinster emerged as the premier team in Europe. After seeing off Racing in a dour Champions Cup decider, Leo Cullen’s were back to their free-flowing best to beat Scarlets 40-32 in the Pro14 final, with Jordan Larmour’s superb kick and chase solo effort the pick of their five tries as they ended a stunning season in style.
Leinster 21 Ulster 18, 2019
The one that got away for Ulster.
The province were steadily improving under Dan McFarland, who joined the previous summer, and put it up to the reigning champions in an absorbing contest. A massive defensive shift laid the platform for Ulster but costly errors proved decisive.
Jacob Stockdale – the province’s main attacking threat – looked to have grabbed a crucial try that would have put his team 18-11 up in the early stages of the second half but failed to touch the ball down. An Adam Byrne try 10 minutes later put Leinster back in the driving seat and their big-game experience told in the end.
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