Winning a Grand Slam can prove elusive. Just ask England, who have clinched only one in 17 years during the professional era.
Winning a Grand Slam can prove elusive. Just ask England, who since the game turned professional have clinched just one in 17 years.
Saturday's journey to Cardiff marks England's first shot at a Slam in the Stuart Lancaster era, but it has been ten long years since England last sealed a clean sweep, during which three head coaches have come and gone.
The 2003 vintage are still showered with praise and rightly so, for it was that success tasted by an England side led by Martin Johnson and including Lawrence Dallaglio, Jonny Wilkinson, Jason Robinson and Neil Back to name a few, that spurred England on to a World Cup victory later in the year.
Look around that one bright spot however and you will fine not one or two, but four dark moments for England sides chasing a Grand Slam title.
1999: Scott Gibbs stuns Wembley – Wales 32-31 England
England led by six points with only four minutes remaining after three tries from Dan Luger, Steve Hanley and Richard Hill, but having won a penalty captain Dallaglio elected to kick for the corner rather than add another three points through Wilkinson.
England failed to capitalise, Wales cleared their lines and in a moment of magic, Scott Gibbs jinked and cut his way through England's defence to touchdown.
“He's like the leader in a buffalo stampede, that lad Scott Gibbs,” declared Bill McLaren, as Neil Jenkins landed the conversion to seal the win.
2000: Scotland surprise at Murrayfield – Scotland 19-13 England
Stinging from their loss to Wales the previous year, England hammered their way through the 2000 Six Nations, including a victory in Paris, scoring 170 points in their first four matches and conceding just 51.
Scotland by contrast had won none of their fixtures up until the final game of the championship at Murrayfield. Their fortunes changed dramatically as Duncan Hodge scored all of Scotland's points on a freezing, foul day in Edinburgh.
2001: Ireland make it a hat-trick of nightmares – Ireland 20-14 England
Having been denied by the other two Celtic nations at the final hurdle in the previous two years, Ireland took their turn to crush England's hopes at Lansdowne Road in 2011.
In a rescheduled fixture due to the foot and mouth crisis of that year, England faced Ireland in October, with the momentum they had built up seven months earlier against the other nations all but gone.
Tactically naive, England played with too much width and came unstuck, Keith Wood burrowing over for the crucial try as David Humphreys and Ronan O'Gara kicked away another Grand Slam chance.
2011: Johnson suffers again in Dublin – Ireland 24-8 England
Having lost and won a Grand Slam in Dublin as a player, Martin Johnson returned as head coach of an England side that had won in Cardiff, but squeezed past France and Scotland at Twickenham.
England arrived with the tournament's top try scorer in Chris Ashton (with six), but were comprehensively shut down in all areas by a resurgent Irish side. Brian O'Driscoll's try at the beginning of the second half killed off the contest – his 25th in Six Nations history – as England took a bittersweet championship before going on to disappoint at the Rugby World Cup later that year.
by Ben Coles