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Ireland v England Flashback: Geoghegan’s Gold At Twickenham (1994)

Ireland v England Flashback: Geoghegan’s Gold At Twickenham (1994)

The flash of blond hair across the TV screen, the billowing green jersey with the Harry Hill collar, the buzz of anticipation every time he got the ball. Simon Geoghegan was simply a joy to watch as he fizzed along the wing in the 1990s.

Just over a week away from Ireland’s big RBS 6 Nations showdown with England, today’s 21st anniversary of Simon Geoghegan’s famous try against the English at Twickenham (February 19, 1994) is a timely reminder of its impact on the generation of players that followed.

Ireland’s 13-12 victory back in ’94 – their first at RFU headquarters in 12 years and England’s first home loss since 1988 – certainly left an indelible mark. If you were a youngster at the time, engrossed by the tribalism of Five Nations Saturdays, Geoghegan was the player you became as soon as you hit the back garden.

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That was admittedly the case for current number 8 Jamie Heaslip, growing up in his rugby-mad household, while Geoghegan was Tommy Bowe’s ‘rugby idol’ as a kid in Monaghan. Fellow Ulsterman Andrew Trimble also took inspiration from him: ‘I always admired Simon for his flair and how he could run’.

Ireland’s most-decorated captain and centre Brian O’Driscoll cites Geoghegan’s magical score as his favourite Championship memory before his own playing days. It stands out too as one of Luke Fitzgerald’s earliest rugby memories.

In an era when wins were particularly hard to come by for Irish teams, Geoghegan, whose father hailed from Galway, had an electric presence on the wing as fans waited (and waited!) for him to receive a pass and take on the opposition out wide. The decibel level always rose.

With a super-charged running action and a swerve that could leave his rivals for dead, it is no wonder that the late, great Bill McClaren compared him to ‘a mad octopus, all arms and legs in there’ and noted he was ‘as quick as a trout up a burn’.

Clocking 10.5 seconds for the 100 metres, Geoghegan was five caps in before he tasted victory with Ireland – against Zimbabwe at the 1991 Rugby World Cup – but his first season saw him score tries against Wales, England, Scotland and the Zimbabweans and win the Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year award.

He scored 11 tries in all during his 37-match international career (all starts), his sixth perhaps being his most celebrated as he finished with aplomb past Tony Underwood and Jon Callard on the pristine Twickenham sward.

The straight-talking and free-spirited Geoghegan noted during his international days that Ireland often ‘struggled to get beyond two phases’, but they did so on that magical afternoon in February 1994 as a Rob Andrew dropout was tapped back by Neil Francis and into Paddy Johns’ welcoming arms.

Number 8 Johns resisted a tackle near the right touchline, fed the ball inside to Terry Kingston and created quick ruck ball. Prop Peter Clohessy was next up, charging onto a pass from Michael Bradley before the scrum half and captain released his eager back-line.

Eric Elwood, the goal-kicking hero of the previous year against England, swung a pass out to Philip Danaher with debutant centre Maurice Field and Conor O’Shea’s decoy runs proving vital. Danaher swiftly linked with the supporting Richard Wallace outside him and the latter’s well-timed pass released Geoghegan from just outside the 22 where he burned Underwood on the outside and his clever footwork got him over in the corner past Callard. Watching that three seconds of Geoghegan magic, the hairs still go up.

Speaking about the try, Geoghegan mentioned that its origins had come from his spell at London Irish under then coach George Hook. “Bath had pulled that move on us at London Irish a couple of seasons earlier. George Hook was our coach at Irish at the time and we worked on it and developed it a little,” he explained.

“Then, because of George’s involvement with Ireland at that time, the national side also practiced it. And when we put it into practice it came off.”

Another incident from that one-point triumph over the English encapsulated Geoghegan’s tenacity and value to Ireland – albeit that he later admitted that referee (Patrick Thomas) should have given the penalty the other way.

Facing his own try-line, he gathered a Callard chip, turned and evaded both Underwood and Will Carling before putting boot to ball. The sight of him outpacing the retreating Callard and furiously swarming over Andrew on the deck elicited a huge guttural roar from the travelling support. The resulting penalty, kicked by Elwood, was the match-winning score.

An ultra competitive individual who hated losing at anything, Ireland’s own ‘blond bomber’ was definitely ahead of his time and would have thrived most likely in these professional times. However, he was known to often turn up for training the day before a match wearing glasses and a pair of runners – a sign that he knew that he was ready (for the game) and that he was not going to exert himself.

One of his Ireland colleagues and room-mates, full-back Jim Staples, recalled his first time training with Geoghegan back in 1988 at London Irish. “He got the ball and started zigzagging his way up the field. I tried to follow him, but didn’t have a clue where he was going. I still don’t,” admitted Staples in a 1995 interview.

A chronic toe injury sadly brought Geoghegan’s Ireland career to a premature end in 1996, at the age of just 27. Before attempting to play again at club level, he had to have seven millimetres of bone removed from his arthritic big toes. It dashed his hopes of touring with the Lions in 1997 and he also frustratingly missed out on selection four years prior to that.

The Ireland team that took on and beat England 21 years ago were: Conor O’Shea; Richard Wallace, Maurice Field, Philip Danaher, Simon Geoghegan; Eric Elwood, Michael Bradley (capt); Nick Popplewell, Terry Kingston, Peter Clohessy, Mick Galwey, Neil Francis, Brian Robinson, Denis McBride, Paddy Johns.

Replacements: Ken O’Connell, Ciaran Clarke, Alan McGowan, Rob Saunders, Gary Halpin, Keith Wood.