Six Nations: 21 Unforgettable moments that decided the 2024 Championship

Jared Wright
Six Nations: England's Ben Earl, France's Gregory Alldritt and Scotland's Finn Russell, Andrew Porter of Ireland, Duhan van der Merwe of Scotland and Paolo Garbisi of Italy.

Six Nations: England's Ben Earl, France's Gregory Alldritt and Scotland's Finn Russell, Andrew Porter of Ireland, Duhan van der Merwe of Scotland and Paolo Garbisi of Italy.

Following the conclusion of yet another pulsating Six Nations, we take a look back at the moments that decided the Championship.

Ireland’s four victories from five matches was enough to seal back-to-back titles with 2024 proving to be one of the tightest tournaments in history.

In fact, 10 matches were decided by four points or fewer, with Opta confirming that no edition of the Championship (including the Home and Five Nations) has seen more than seven games decided by such a margin.

With such small margins being an evident theme of this Six Nations, we take a look back at the 21 moments that decided the tournament.

Paul Willemse’s red card in Lille

France's Paul Willemse is shown a red card after receiving a second yellow during the Guinness Six Nations match at the Orange Velodrome in Marseille, France.

France’s Paul Willemse is shown a red card after receiving a second yellow during the Guinness Six Nations.

It was a night to forget for Paul Willemse as injuries gave him the opportunity to cement his place back in the squad after missing the World Cup through injury; however, it was not to be as he failed to make the most of it.

He was yellow carded for a dangerous clearout early on in the match, adding to France’s woes following a slow start to the game, and shortly after returning he was shown his marching orders for a high tackle leaving Les Bleus with 14-men for the remainder of the match.

Willemse’s sending off put a lethargic-looking France even further on the back foot in what was already being dubbed as the Six Nations title decider.

During his sin-binning, France conceded seven points to trail 0-10, and when he was sent off, they were 3-17 down. France would score soon after to close the gap and get back in the game, but ultimately, Ireland were just too good on the day and surged to a record 17-38 victory in France. Not only was Willemse’s sending-off costly in the clash, but it also put further pressure on Les Bleus’ lock stocks until the final two rounds of the Championship.

The French often start the Six Nations slowly and the red card only compounded their woes and meant that they had to play catch-up in their next fixtures.

WATCH: Every red card in the history of the Six Nations

Monty Ioane’s try v England

It’s easy to forget that Italy’s clash with England in Rome in round one was their first fixture since they were hammered 60-7 by France in the Rugby World Cup last year.

Gonzalo Quesada’s side entered the match as underdogs, but there was a clear shift in mentality and performance from the Azzurri in Rome, signalling what lay ahead for their campaign.

George Ford’s pair of penalties in the last half-hour of the match put the result beyond Italy’s reach but the Italians never gave in and Monty Ioane illustrated just that with a stunning try. He got back to his feet after an incomplete tackle and ripped through the English defence to dot down for his side’s third try. Not only did the score put Italy within seven points and earn them a crucial losing bonus point from the match, but it also gave the Italians motivation for what lay ahead.

Duhan van der Merwe’s no-try v Wales

Duhan van der Merwe would end the Six Nations just one try short of Stuart Hogg’s record at the top of Scotland’s all-time leading scorers list.

The powerhouse winger got his campaign off to a brilliant start grabbing a pair of scores against Wales and looked to have completed his hat-trick in the final play of the fixture in Cardiff. However, it was not to be as the TMO ruled out his effort as Wales came away with a losing bonus-point.

Had Van der Merwe scored that try, Wales may well have been denied that single log point and Scotland would have earned another with that being their fourth try.

Those points wouldn’t have affected the table’s final outcome as they now stand, but still, they certainly would have changed the permutations heading into Super Saturday. Like Ioane’s score inspired the Italians, Van der Merwe’s may well have had a similar impact on Scotland.

Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s try v Scotland

Believe it or not, a scrum is far from the ideal launch pad for a potential try, with the set-piece providing 12 of the Championship’s 64 tries, with France grabbing the most – five.

That stat adds to what was a special try from Les Bleus winger Louis Bielle-Biarrey in the fiery clash against Scotland at Murrayfield in round two of the Six Nations.

The winger received the ball from a bullet pass from Nolann Le Garrec and brilliantly chipped over the top, regathered and scored a stunner.

The try cut Scotland’s lead to just one point, with Thomas Ramos’ clutch conversion and his successful penalty in the 76th minute put France in the driving seat in the final 10 minutes of the game.

Scotland’s fightback

Scotland were hellbent on getting a win from the match and looked on their way to doing so when Kyle Rowe ripped through the French defence and sprinted into France’s 22 but was crucially hunted down by Paul Boudehent. Rowe spilt the ball forward in the tackle, and Scotland’s hopes of winning seemingly disappeared.

But Finn Russell earnt his side one final chance, when he dislodged the ball from Le Garrec’s grasps and dived on the ball as the Scots went in search of the winning score just a few metres out from the tryline.

Sam Skinner’s no-try from the TMO against France

That led to the big one. Scotland bashed their way towards the try through their pack, edging ever closer with each passing phase.

Just nine seconds after the clock went into the red, replacement lock Sam Skinner went for the line and looked to have scored the try to clinch the win.

But referee Nic Berry was not convinced and checked with his TMO, crucially stating that his on-field decision was no try. Despite checking multiple angles, the officiating team decided that there was no conclusive proof of a grounding and the final whistle was blown, sealing a 16-20 win to France.

That final decision meant that Scotland collected just one log point from the encounter, with France claiming four. Had the Scots been awarded the try, they would have entered the final round of the Six Nations needing a victory and denying Ireland a bonus point to win the Championship for the first time since Italy was added to the tournament.

‘It’s a try’ – Scotland boss Gregor Townsend left fuming after crucial TMO decision

Ioan Lloyd’s chip kick and cross-kick

It was a Six Nations of learnings for Wales as they went winless throughout their campaign, and fly-half Ioan Lloyd will have certainly taken the lessons on, particularly in the 16-14 defeat to England.

After narrowly going down to Scotland in round one, Wales had a shot at defeating England in round two and were chasing a late score as England led 16-14 in the latter stages of the clash at Twickenham.

It’s worth noting that Wales did not add to their tally in the second half but did have an opportunity to edge ahead as they attacked in the match’s closing moments.

England managed to push them back, and Lloyd rolled the dice with a chip kick over the top. However, the gamble did not pay off as Freddie Steward returned the kick deep into Wales’ 22. While they recovered well enough, they lost plenty of ground.

Lloyd then gambled again with a cross kick to Rio Dyer, who managed to get his hands on the ball but went over the touchline – seemingly taken out in the air by George Ford who was not penalised.

Lloyd’s first kick put Wales in an almost impossible position to score a winner from, even though they weren’t gaining much ground at that stage, which would ultimately lead to England’s win.

Ireland’s demolition of Italy and Wales

Less than a single moment but rather 160 minutes of dominance as Ireland underlined their title-winning credentials with back-to-back bonus point wins, thrashing Italy 36-0 and Wales 31-7.

It showed the clear gulf in class between the sides and led to Ireland racking up 15 league points from a possible 15.

By the time the final whistle went against Wales, Ireland was comfortably in the driving seat to claim back-to-back titles and on track to becoming the first team to complete successive Grand Slams, but perhaps at the same time, it allowed for a tinge of complacency slip in.

Duhan van der Merwe’s hat-trick against England

He really love scoring against the Auld Enemy. The South African-born speedster put on a show against the Red Rose, running in three tries in a breath-taking performance.

Each one of his tries were special in their own way, so we didn’t single one out in particular, so enjoy them all again.

Scotland not getting the bonus point against England

A lot of Scotland’s campaign hinges on ‘what could have been’, and despite claiming a Calcutta Cup victory over England, they will still rue missed opportunities against the Auld Enemy.

One of those being their inability to grab a bonus point try in the 30-21 win. Gregor Townsend’s side had already scored three tries in the first 45 minutes of the fixture but failed to cross the whitewash for a fourth in the remaining 25 minutes.

Again, the extra log point would have served them well on Super Saturday, even with the defeat to Italy on the penultimate weekend.

It was a statement victory for Scotland but they need to be more ruthless which will be a big takeaway from the tournament on a whole.

Jonathan Danty’s red card

With a 10-0 advantage at home against a buoyant Italian side, France looked somewhat comfortable and on track to claim their second win of the Championship, albeit a hard-fought one.

But Fabien Galthie’s charges were dealt a hammer blow when centre Jonathan Danty stupidly cluttered into Juan Ignacio Brex, having charged up from a distance and made a poor tackle on the Azzurri centre.

Often, players can just get their technique wrong, but in this case, Danty didn’t have much of a case to argue about, as he was rightfully given his marching orders.

With France also backing a 6-2 bench split for the encounter, the midfielders’ sending-off resulted in a backline shuffle, which was made even worse soon after the break when fly-half Matthieu Jalibert limped off the pitch.

Both players would not feature again for France in this campaign, and although Thomas Ramos increased Les Bleus’ lead to 13-0, that would be their last contribution to the scoreboard.

Manuel Zuliani’s turnover and Paolo Garbisi’s missed shot at goal v France

Italy were denied a first-ever Six Nations victory over Les Bleus in France in round three by the finest of margins.

Ange Capuozzo scored a marvellous try with the responding conversion from Paolo Garbisi, levelling the scores at 13 points apiece and set up a tense finish.

France went on the attack looking to end Italy’s hopes of a shock result, but they were undone when replacement flanker Manuel Zuliani pilfered over the ball at the breakdown to win a penalty and hand the Azzurri one final chance.

While it was a difficult shot at goal, it was well within Garbisi’s range and the star fly-half lined up a historic kick, much like he did in Cardiff in 2022 – while that kicked sailed through the uprights, he did not have the same luck this time around.

Unfortunately for the playmaker, the ball wobbled off the tee just before he began his approach, and with the clock winding down, he quickly reset and rushed his kick that agonisingly struck the right-hand post deny.

The width of the upright not only denied Garbisi’s side a first win in France in the Championship but also a high placing as they would have finished in at least fourth place, their joint-best finish in the tournament.

Garbisi’s accuracy comes to the rescue

The mark of a world-class player is their ability to bounce back from setbacks, and that’s exactly what Garbisi did following the stalemate with France.

In his very next match, the fly-half led Italy to a clutch 31-29 win over Scotland in Rome, their first Six Nations victory in Rome in 11 years.

The Azzurri scored 21 unanswered points before Sam Skinner’s consolation try with three minutes left to play in the fixture.

After missing a crucial kick against France, Garbisi knocked over five of his six kicks, including a 72nd-minute penalty, to put his side up by nine points and out of a converted try by the Scots.

Pierre Schoeman’s error

That 21-point swing for the Azzurri came off the back of a crucial error from Scotland prop Pierre Schoeman in the opening minutes of the second half.

At the time, Scotland were leading 22-16 before George Horne cantered in after linking up with Huw Jones who ripped open the Italian defence. But upon review, Jones’ route through the defence was opened up by Schoeman, who hit Italy back-rower Ross Vintcent off the ball. The officials did not miss it, and the try was disallowed.

Italy responded almost immediately, with Louis Lynagh scoring his first Test try soon after, which was a significant momentum swing in the clash and set the Azzurri en route to a famous win.

Connor Murray’s clearance into touch

As mentioned above, Ireland looked to be steaming towards history in the bid to become the first team to claim successive Six Nations Grand Slams.

Their hopes of doing so took a massive knock when England led 20-17 in the final quarter of the match at Twickenham, but as they have done time and again in recent years, they found a way.

Andy Farrell’s side reclaimed the lead in the 72nd minute when Jamison Gibson-Park – who shifted to the wing following injuries to Calvin Nash and Ciaran Frawley – sent James Lowe over the try line.

Ireland looked set to close the game out from there but a penalty gave Elliot Daly a long-range shot at goal – which he missed. Nervously holding onto the narrow lead, Ireland had a lineout deep in their own half. While they managed to secure possession and needing to run down the clock, veteran scrum-half Conor Murray opted to clear to touch.

He did not get enough purchase on his kick and gave England one more roll of the dice to seal the win, which they duly took. Steve Borthwick’s charges worked their way back into the 22 and under penalty advantage, Marcus Smith slotted the match-winning drop goal.

It denied Ireland a historic Grand Slam and showed that they were in fact human.

France replacements in the 52nd minute

After three successive losses, Warren Gatland’s side looked in with a shout of ending their losing streak as they led France 24-20 in the second half in Cardiff.

However, there was one clear turning point as Fabien Galthie unleashed Georges-Herni Colombe, Romain Taofifenua, Sebastien Taofifenua and Peato Mauvaka into the fray all at once in the 52nd minute.

While their impact was not immediate, it certainly swung momentum in the French’s favour, with Colombe and Romain Taofifenua crossing the whitewash as well as fellow replacement Maxime Lucu as they surged to a 24-45 victory.

The bonus point win would ultimately help France finish second overall and leave Wales with one final chance to avoid a winless campaign.

Garbisi’s turnover

The fly-half played an incredibly influential role for Italy throughout the tournament, and one of his most crucial interventions was something that the number 10 is not renowned for – a breakdown penalty.

Wales finally opened up their account against the Azzurri in the 64th minute of the match, and despite Garbisi adding a penalty soon after, Gatland’s side still had their tails up.

Launching an attack from a lineout inside their own half, Wales looked to fight their way back from 7-21 down with a slim chance of an unlikely comeback.

But that was before Juan Ignacio Brex chopped down Rio Dyer, and Garbisi pounced to pilfer over the ball and win the penalty for Italy.

This time, Martin Page-Relo stepped up to take the shot at goal and cooly slotted the effort to extend the lead to 7-24 – beyond two converted tries.

Wales did score two late converted tries but that penalty, meant that they were both consolation scores.

Dan Sheehan’s try from an overthrown lineout

While the permutations floated around before Super Saturday, Ireland were still fully expected to pick up a victory over Scotland and lift the Six Nations trophy.

However, Townsend’s charges did not make life easy for Ireland – outside of one soft moment – as they defended furiously, stalling the Irish attack time and time again.

The one soft moment was hugely costly, however, with George Turner’s overthrown lineout falling perfectly in the palms of Dan Sheehan who made light work of Ben White and crashed over the line from five metres out.

That try was enough to give Ireland a 7-6 lead at half-time and get one hand on the trophy.

Ronan Kelleher’s pass and Andrew Porter’s try to seal the title

Scotland’s heroic defence was finally breached in the 64th minute, and this time, it was not down to a lapse from the Scotland players.

Ireland kept hammering at the Scottish defence inside their 22, and with a penalty five metres from the line, Ireland needed something special to finally break through.

A well-set and structured tap-and-go set move saw Ronan Kelleher throw a wonderful out-the-back pass to Andrew Porter to crash over the line.

There are still those who believe that Porter was held up and that the Ireland players obstructed the Scottish defence when Kelleher threw the pass, but the officiating team ultimately deemed it legal, effectively sealing the title for Farrell’s charges.

Ben Earl’s no-arms tackle

It was supposed to be a dead rubber, a damp squib, just another Six Nations Test match with the only reward being the runners-up tag after Ireland was crowned champions just moments before kick-off in Lyon.

It was anything but that as England and France threw everything and the kitchen sink at one another in arguably the pick of the matches on Super Saturday.

A 75th-minute Tommy Freeman try edged Borthwick’s charges ahead and looked to have cemented their second-place finish, but there was still one more chapter left in the saga.

Looking to crack open the English defence just one more time, France attacked near the halfway line. England defended with everything they had and looked to keep the French attack at bay before referee Angus Gardner stuck his arm out for an advantage.

The TMO had notified him of England back-rower Ben Earl’s no-arms tackle, and France were given one final opportunity to win the Six Nations epic.

Law discussion: Should Ben Earl have been penalised for his final tackle against France?

Thomas Ramos’ clutch kick

With the match on the line and the chance to finish in second place overall, the pressure was on Thomas Ramos as he lined up the kick. A sharpshooter from the tee, the Frenchman would have been confident of sealing the win, but from the halfway line with a bit of an angle, it was not the easiest of kicks.

Still, like the best kickers in the business, he went through his routine, looked up and smashed the ball through the uprights to bring a thriller to a close in stunning style.

READ MORE: Six Nations Team of the Tournament: Ireland and Italy lead the way as one country misses out