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'Let's return to reality - Ireland must exercise caution'

Irish expectation soars as Andy Farrell's team sweeps all in its path, but cool heads are needed if they are to heed mistakes of the past

Six of the greatest comebacks in Rugby history

By Graham Jenkins
The ALl Blacks after the International match between Ireland and the New Zealand All Blacks in 2013

Victory is rarely sweeter than when it is the result of a thrilling back-from-the-dead comeback.

The ability to rally in the face of adversity and turn despair into delight may do little for a coach’s blood pressure or fans’ fingernails but arguably a never-say-die attitude is the most desirable character trait for any team.


In recent weeks there have been some classic comeback victories.

Continue reading below…

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The Cardiff Blues rallied from a 20-6 half-time deficit to claim an eventual 31-30 victory over Gloucester in an entertaining Challenge Cup final in Bilbao. That incredible result was eclipsed on the other side of the rugby globe where the Crusaders battled back from 29-0 down to edge out Super Rugby rivals the Waratahs 31-29 in a stunning turn of events.

To celebrate their outstanding achievements, we’ve raided the archives to relive some of rugby’s other great comebacks.


Ireland 22-24 New Zealand, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland, November 24, 2013

Ireland looked on course for an historic first victory over the All Blacks with early tries from Conor Murray, Rory Best and Rob Kearney helping to propel the hosts into a 19-0 lead.

New Zealand, who were looking to become the first side to win every Test in a calendar year, clawed one back through Julian Savea but they were still staring at defeat as the sides entered the break with Johnny Sexton having taken the Irish out to a 22-7 lead.

But the All Blacks are world champions for a reason. Aaron Cruden reduced the arrears with a penalty Ben Franks cranked up the pressure with another try.


A missed penalty from Sexton heightened the tension but a long-awaited victory – 108 years to be precise – still looked to be on the cards with Ireland still holding a five-point lead as the clock reached the 80 minute mark.

However, there was still time for the All Blacks to launch one last epic assault that ended with Ryan Crotty crossing to level the scores.

There was yet more drama to come with Cruden missing the conversion only for it to be retaken because the Irish had rushed the kicker. He made no mistake the second time to break Irish hearts and cap one of the greatest comebacks the game has ever seen.

Leinster 33-22 Northampton Saints, Heineken Cup Final, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, May 21, 2011

The battle for the European crown appeared to be over at half-time with tries from Phil Dowson, Ben Foden and Dylan Hartley putting Saints into a 22-6 lead and seemingly within touching distance of a second Heineken Cup win.

However, if that was the script, Leinster’s Johnny Sexton clearly hadn’t read it and had no intention of sticking to it.

The playmaker’s rousing half-time speech, which reportedly drew on Liverpool’s remarkable comeback from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final, lit the fuse on an incredible comeback.

Not content with inspiring it, Sexton led the fight back with two second half tries before Nathan Hines added a third to leave Northampton shell-shocked.

Sexton ended the game with a 28-point haul and quite rightfully the Man of the Match honour having steered his province to a remarkable victory – all the more impressive for the magnitude of the occasion.

“I just said stuff like this happens in sport,” said Sexton when pressed on his rallying call. “I probably watch too much of it, get slagged for it, but when you say stuff at half-time you don’t really know what you’re saying half the time. It was just one of those things I suppose, just stuck in my memory for some reason.”

Wales 31-24 Scotland, Six Nations, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, February 13, 2010

The Six Nations rarely fails to provide entertainment and drama in equal measure but fans were truly spoilt on this occasion with one of the most thrilling finales witnessed in the Championship’s long history.

The Scots were chasing a first victory in Cardiff since 2002 and it appeared they might just get it with John Barclay and Max Evans rocking the hosts and fuelling hope of a rare success in the Welsh capital.

The boot of Stephen Jones and a try from Lee Byrne kept the hosts in touch but the kicking exploits of Dan Parks ensured the Scots still held a 10-point lead as the game entered the final five minutes.

But Wales had certainly not conceded defeat and a try from Leigh Halfpenny just two minutes from time and the conversion from Jones had the home fans dreaming of a draw – but they would get so much better.

A trip on Wales’ Lee Byrne enabled Jones to level the scores from the kicking tee in the final minute – and reduced the undisciplined Scots to 13-men – but there was one more twist in this tale.

Jones amazingly rolled the dice following the re-start by kicking ahead to set up an unbelievable finale that saw Shane Williams skip over for the game’s final try that was converted by his fly-half as the stadium erupted.

South Africa 36-35 Australia, Edinburgh Sevens Final, Murrayfield, Scotland, May 31, 2011

The tries often come thick and fast on the high-octane World Rugby Sevens Series but the final of this particular event was ridiculous even by those standards.

Australia began brightly with tries from Bernard Foley (2) and Jonathon Lance helping them into 21-7 half-time lead with Steven Hunt notching South Africa’s only try.

The game appeared almost painfully one-sided when Henry Vanderglas scored straight from the restart to stretch the Australian’s lead to 28-7.

Back came the brave Boks with tries from Franke Horne and Bernado Botha adding some respect to the score line only for Ed Jenkins to grab another try for Australia to take them into a 35-19 lead with just a couple of minutes left on the clock.

But two further tries from Hunt brought South Africa back to within striking range and there was still time for yet more drama.

They recovered the kick off as the siren sounded and Sibusiso Sithole proved to be the hero with one last mazy run through a weary defence for the match-winning try.

“What can you say after a performance like that?” said SA coach Paul Treu. “They refused to give in and South Africa can be very proud of these young men.”

London Wasps 40-42 Harlequins, Aviva Premiership, Twickenham, England, September 1, 2012

Quins began their defence of the Premiership title with the most thrilling of comebacks played out in front of a bumper crowd at English rugby’s HQ.

Wasps took a firm grip on the game early on with tries from Christian Wade and Tom Varndell and Quins desperately tried to keep pace with a score of their own from Tom Williams.

But another try from Wade and further five-pointers from Marco Wentzel and Tim Payne put Wasps 40-13 ahead early in the second half and had fans from both sides searching for the record books.

However, Quins rediscovered the form that had carried them to the title a few months earlier and tries from Mike Brown (2), Tom Guest and Nick Evans turned the game on its head.

It was then left to Evans who finished the game with 22 points – to set the seal on surely the greatest comeback ever witnessed in the Premiership with a 77th minute penalty.

France 43-31 New Zealand, Rugby World Cup semi-final, Twickenham, England, October 31, 1999

This epic World Cup encounter goes down not only an example of one of the best comebacks ever but also one of the greatest games.

France threatened to upset the odds with the opening try of the game from Christophe Lamaison offering a hint of what was to come but it served only to sting the All Blacks – and one particular giant of the game – into action.

Jonah Lomu underlined his status as the game’s most awesome attacking threat as he swatted seven French defenders aside on his way to a try and the boot of Andrew Mehrtens extended New Zealand’s lead to 17-10 at the break.

Lomu was soon tormenting the French once again and another barn-storming run carrying him to his 15th World Cup try – a record he still share with South Africa’s Bryan Habana – just five minutes after the re-start. The conversion from Mehrtens took the All Blacks out to an impregnable 24-10 lead, or so it seemed.

Lamaison, a late replacement for the injured Thomas Castaignede, kicked two quick drop goals and then two penalties and suddenly the deficit was down to just two points.

Christophe Dominici then pounced on a kick ahead and some indecision in the All Blacks’ ranks for a try that took France into the lead.

Lamaison added the extras and was then instrumental once more with a brilliant chip ahead for Richard Dourthe to dot down and the conversion took the French out to a 12-point lead with a quarter of the game remaining.

Lamaison could clearly do no wrong and another kick ahead was this time hacked once more by Olivier Magne with Philippe Bernat-Salles winning the race to the ball for his side’s final try five minutes from time.

Jeff Wilson grabbed a late score for the All Blacks but it was no more than a consolation – their World Cup hopes shattered.


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