Six Nations greatest games: Ronan O’Gara drop goal against Wales hands Ireland historic Grand Slam in 2009

Dylan Coetzee
Six Nations: Ireland flyhalf Ronan O'Gara slots Grand Slam winning drop goal against Wales in 2009.

The 2023 Six Nations is creeping ever closer as we near the opening round that is loaded with blockbuster fixtures.

In anticipation of the start of the tournament that is made that much more intriguing by the Rugby World Cup looming later in the year, Planet Rugby takes readers back to some of the greatest games the Six Nations has produced.

Next up is Wales against Ireland in the final round of the 2009 tournament, where some Ronan O’Gara magic, an outstanding Tommy Bowe try, and a late Stephen Jones penalty miss handed Ireland a 17-15 win and a Grand Slam.

What was at stake

Ireland was unbeaten in the championship, whilst Wales had won three from four and were looking to topple their high-powered opponents.

Adding to the drama was the Irish search for an historic Grand Slam – their first in a whopping 61 years -and they were finally in a good position to do so.

Standing in the way of Declan Kidney’s side was this tricky fixture against a very good Welsh side in Cardiff, which always makes for a great occasion.

Memorable performers

Both sides were absolutely littered with stars. Wales had a hard-working pack during the clash, with Gethin Jenkins, Alun-Wyn Jones, Ian Gough and Martyn Williams all making more than 10 tackles. Jones topped the charts with 15 tackles in the Test.

The Welsh backline featured the likes of Shane Williams, Gavin Henson, Lee Byrne and Mike Phillips, to name a few.

Phillips and Byrne carried the ball well, making 68 and 73 metres throughout the clash. However, the man who tried to do it all for Wales was fly-half Jones.

The number 10 had a memorable game, kicking all of Wales’ points, three penalties and a drop-goal. Unfortunately for Jones, he did not have the power to send his side away with a victory.

On the Irish side, the legendary centre pairing of Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll showed their class on the day. D’Arcy, at times, orchestrated the play as if he had 10 on his back.

But it was fly-half O’Gara who kicked a sumptuous chip over the defensive line for Bowe to run onto at pace, skin the defenders and magnificently score in the 46th minute.

That was only two minutes after the Six Nations’ all-time try scorer, O’Driscoll, picked and drove over the line to score a try that most tight forwards would be proud of.

In the second-row, Paul O’Connell was at his menacing best in the lineout and made a team-high 13 carries, while his partner Donncha O’Callaghan made a team-high 10 tackles in the clash.

Ultimately, the mercurial veteran O’Gara had the most telling contribution in the game, including two conversions and the winning drop-goal with two minutes to play.

Why it will be remembered

It was a vintage Test, one that started with an arm-wrestle as neither team gave an inch. The first half was tight and cagey, producing only six points off Jones’ boot, giving Wales a 6-0 lead at half-time.

The second half was a different contest as the pendulum swung between the sides, with Ireland flying out of the blocks in the opening minutes.

Despite Ireland scoring two tries when momentum was in favour, Wales continued to chip away and always kept in touching distance.

What this Test will truly be remembered for is the dramatic drop-goal trade in the final five minutes. Jones thought he had won the game for Wales with his 76th-minute drop-goal.

However, rugby showed why there is that great old saying ‘play to the final whistle’ as O’Gara responded with a drop goal of his own with only two minutes left on the clock to take the lead 17-15. Ireland was so close to being Grand Slam champions for the first time in 61 years.

Of course, the drama was not over there, as Jones had a chance to reclaim his hero status with a penalty effort. The clock was in the red, and the Welshman struck it well but not well enough, as the ball fell agonisingly short of the crossbar.

It was a true seesaw second half that embodied the beauty of the Six Nations.

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