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Throwback Thursday: Five New Caps On A Famous February Day

Throwback Thursday: Five New Caps On A Famous February Day

For many, the Ireland v Scotland 2000 Six Nations game marked a turning point in modern Irish rugby. An upturn in our international fortunes, and it will always hold a special resonance. A first win over Scotland since 1988 and five new caps making their mark in memorable fashion.

There were nerves aplenty for Munster youngsters Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer (both aged 22), the fresh-faced half-backs from Cork, rangy Leinster winger Shane Horgan (21) and Simon Easterby (24), the latest Exiles recruit in the pack. And not forgetting the Test birth of ‘the Bull’, tighthead John Hayes (26).

All making their debuts when All Saints’ ‘Pure Shores’ was top of the charts, ‘American Beauty’ had just been released in cinemas, Windows 2000 was a couple of days into its launch and the Punt was still around.

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Then head coach Warren Gatland felt the newcomers were ready for the step up as Ireland, hammered 50-18 by a rampant England, sought to pick up the pieces in the second round of the inaugural Six Nations Championship.

Eight changes in personnel saw Hayes, Mick Galwey and Llanelli flanker Easterby come into the pack, with O’Gara and Stringer replacing David Humphreys and Tom Tierney at half-back and the Leinster trio of Girvan Dempsey, Denis Hickie and Horgan combining in the back-three.

The pressure was mounting on Gatland and the players followin a hugely forgettable 1999 Rugby World Cup campaign, including that exit to Argentina in Lens, which was followed by the record-breaking loss to England at Twickenham.

It was do-or-die and the New Zealander, with Eddie O’Sullivan now his assistant, made some brave calls, notably rewarding players who had impressed during Munster’s European run that season. “It would have been the easiest thing in the world to make a conservative selection,” he said at the time.

“But I’d like to think if I did have to walk away I could, in all honesty, say that we’ve picked some players for the development of Irish rugby.”

Ireland were perennial underachievers in the Championship back then – with just two wins in the past three Five Nations tournaments – and injuries to Justin Bishop (jaw) and Kevin Maggs (hamstring) hampered their selection for Scotland.

What followed at Lansdowne Road on a sunny February day was initially more of the same. The Scots are 10-0 up early on thanks to Kenny Logan’s try, created by a Gregor Townsend pass, and five points from the winger’s boot.

O’Gara recovered from a shaky start, benefiting from Stringer’s pinpoint whipped deliveries, and he knocked over two penalties and converted Malcolm O’Kelly’s first international try to give Ireland a 13-10 interval lead.

With key men Brian O’Driscoll and Keith Wood, Ireland’s all-action captain, putting in big performances and Hayes part of a dominant Irish scrum, Gatland’s men kicked on in the second half to record their biggest ever victory over Scotland.

The home crowd roared with delight as Ireland ran in four tries in 20 minutes, big-striding winger Horgan galloping over just after the restart. O’Gara, giving glimpses of some trademark dummies and passes, looked right at home as he landed the conversion near the right touchline.

Further tries from O’Driscoll, lively replacement David Humphreys and Wood wrapped up the result, with Humphreys’ effort perhaps the most memorable as he profited from a loose Townsend ball and won a thrilling race to his own fly-hack and the try-line.

Late concessions to Glenn Metcalfe and George Graham could not take away from a glorious outcome. Typically, skipper Wood was staying grounded. “I have a fear that everybody will go totally off the charts and start singing our praises by saying everything is rosy in the garden and we’re going on to win the next World Cup,” he said after the game.

“It was a good win and we’re happy with it but you don’t go on to world-beating standards on the back of one win. The new guys had never lost an international and after today, they still haven’t lost an international. It’s a great way to start their careers.”

The new dawn continued in the weeks to come, albeit with the 2000 Championship finishing on a disappointing note with a home defeat to Wales. Another swashbuckling win over Italy and O’Driscoll’s hat-trick heroics in Paris whetted appetites for what was a gradual stride to silverware during the decade.

The 2001 and 2003 Championships were the ones that got away before the memorable Triple Crown success (a first in 19 years) against the Scots at Lansdowne Road in 2004 – on the pitch that day were Messrs. Horgan, O’Gara, Stringer, Hayes and Easterby.

The quintet were certainly in the right place at the right time to begin their international journeys, but they more than delivered on their promise and all five went on to have very rewarding careers at Test level.


– 65 Ireland caps (62 starts), 2000-2009
– Ireland’s fourth top try scorer of all-time (21 tries)
– Scored four tries in his first three international appearances
– Won three Triple Crowns in four years between 2004 and 2007. Scored memorable tries against England in both 2006 (Twickenham) and 2007 (Croke Park)
– The former Meath minor footballer played in all three Tests for the Lions during 2005 New Zealand tour
– Played for Leinster during a 13-year span, winning two Heineken Cups and two league titles and earning legendary status as a winger/centre. Was 2004/05 Heineken Cup’s top try scorer with eight tries
– Retired in March 2012 due to long-term knee injury

Reflecting on his debut: ‘If you look at our body shapes that day, we’re so underdeveloped. John Hayes was always a big man but nowhere near the size he’d be later on in his career. Ronan and myself were absolute sticks. I was 21. Any 21-year-old coming into an Irish set-up now is so much bigger physically. But we were lucky in that everyone and everything to a degree was underdeveloped because professionalism was still so new.’


– 128 Ireland caps (87 starts), 2000-2013
– Ireland’s record points scorer (1083 points) and Six Nations record points scorer (557 points)
– Ireland’s second most-capped player and the most-capped out-half in world rugby, including two Lions Test appearances
– Kicked the match-winning drop goal against Wales in 2009 Grand Slam win. Part of four Triple Crown-winning sides
– Lions tourist in 2001 (Australia), 2005 (New Zealand) and 2009 (South Africa)
– Key player in Munster’s 2006 and 2008 Heineken Cup wins (Munster’s record points scorer (2625 points); ERC European Player award winner (best player over first 15 years of tournament); record Heineken Cup points scorer (1365 points)
– Became Ireland’s third Test centurion against South Africa in November 2010. Captained his country against England in March 2008
– Retired in May 2013 and took up coaching role at French club Racing Metro 92

Reflecting on his Ireland career: ‘I can remember well my first cap against Scotland and genuinely wondering beforehand if that would be it. Would I get a second? Then you count them in fives, and after a while you forget about them.

‘You reach fifty, and then suddenly you’re nearing the century. If I’d been told the night of my first cap that I would go on to win 128, grateful wouldn’t have been the word. It’s been an incredible journey, and it’s also been very strange since retirement. Until then I was permanently in ‘match mode’, but now I’ve finished I’ve been stopped in the street so much more.’


– 98 Ireland caps (81 starts), 2000-2011
– Standing at 5ft 7in, weighing 11st 5lb and noted as a brilliant passer, Stringer was Ireland’s first-choice scrum half for much of the 2000s. Between 2000 and 2006, he appeared in 76 of their 85 matches
– Ireland’s most-capped scrum half of all-time, noted for his ankle-tap tackles and ability to change games
– A Triple Crown winner on four occasions and the provider of the pass for Ronan O’Gara’s Grand Slam-clinching drop goal in 2009
– Is third on the world list of Test starts for scrum halves (81 starts) behind Italy’s Alessandro Troncon (94) and Australian George Gregan (133)
– Munster’s one-time most-capped player, he enjoyed Celtic League and Cup successes with the province as well as two Heineken Cup triumphs (2006 and 2008), scoring a cracking try in the ’06 decider against Biarritz
– Still playing club rugby at the age of 37. It was confirmed this week that he will leave English club Bath at the end of the season

Reflecting on his debut: ‘Of course I was nervous before the Scottish game but, more than that, I was just anxious to get out there such was the hype and expectation. The pace initially was a lot more than I had previously experienced but I got more and more used to it.

‘I felt I coped pretty well although I did get a bit tired towards the end. I felt absolutely fine from the start of the Italy game, I’m a fit kind of guy by nature, and it probably wasn’t as big a step up as I had expected.

‘I felt proud to be out there standing beside Gaillimh (Mick Galwey) in the line-up. He has this marvellous way with people and he has been tremendous for Irish rugby. He was a big influence in the training sessions, telling me not to be fazed by all the hype and to go out and enjoy it for this was something special. And of course he was right.’


– 105 Ireland caps (99 starts), 2000-2011
– A second row as a teenager, he was converted to a prop during a two-year stint playing in Invercargill, New Zealand. Returned to slot successfully into both the Shannon and Munster front rows, and eventually became Ireland’s first-choice tighthead
– Became Ireland’s most-capped player of all-time during the 2009 Six Nations and played a crucial role in winning the Grand Slam that year. He also toured with the Lions in ’05 and ’09, playing in the third Test victory over South Africa six years ago
– Won his 100th Test cap against Italy in the 2010 Six Nations and became Ireland’s first centurion against England that same month
– The Munster stalwart was the first ever player to make 100 Heineken Cup appearances, doing so against Northampton Saints in November 2011
– The gentle Limerick giant was the fifth Munster player to win 200 caps and was part of Heineken Cup, Celtic League and Cup-winning sides with the province
– Retired in December 2011, enjoying a final send-off for Munster against Connacht at Thomond Park

On his nickname and getting emotional come anthem time: ‘I have no idea who came up with that nickname. Some people address me as John. Some use the full handle when they’re greeting me, ‘John Hayes’. The English and Welsh lads on a Lions tour would call me ‘Hayesie’. But an awful lot of people call me ‘Bull’. Friends, strangers, team-mates. ‘Howya, Bull.’

‘I never minded. I actually liked it, and it became second nature a long time ago now. I didn’t have the nickname when I was at Bruff or Shannon. It only started when I moved onto the Munster scene. But I can’t for the life of me remember how it started or who started it. It caught on fairly quick anyway, and took on a life of its own. I presume it’s farming-related in some way or other. It might have had something to do with my build too. I suppose, realistically, no one was ever going to nickname me ‘Greyhound’ anyway.

‘It was always a hugely exciting time of the year, I loved the buzz and the energy coming into the Six Nations. And standing in line for the national anthem was a thrill and an honour that never diminished. I got the shivers and the emotions every single time the music started.’


– 65 Ireland caps (57 starts), 2000-2008
– Played in every game of the 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Six Nations Championships (three Triple Crown wins) and was Ireland’s most-capped back rower until he was passed out by David Wallace (72 caps)
– Played alongside his brother, scrum half Guy, at international level. The pair qualified for Ireland due to their Dublin-born mother Catherine (a hockey international). He scored a brace of tries against both the USA (June 2000) and the Pacific Islanders (November 2006)
– Captained Ireland on two occasions during the 2005 autumn internationals, against New Zealand and Australia
– Was a core part of the Scarlets region since 1999, having previously played for Leeds Carnegie in his native Yorkshire. He played 201 games for Llanelli and the Scarlets, before becoming the Welsh region’s head coach in 2012
– Featured in two Lions Tests against the All Blacks in 2005, scoring a try in the first game
– Retired from international rugby in March 2008, and all rugby in 2010 due to a knee injury. Went on to coach the Scarlets in Llanelli and was appointed Ireland’s forwards coach last July

On making his debut against Scotland: ‘I had set my sights on an ‘A’ cap this season (1999/00) and just hoped that it might help me go further. But I never dreamed I’d get full international status so quickly. It’s still like a dream and of course to be part of two winning sides – against Scotland and Italy – was a great start to my career and an incredible experience.

‘I was anxious before that first match against Scotland. I thought I made a few blunders early on, but I think I settled down and to make my debut on a winning side was as good as it is ever going to come.’

The Ireland team that started against Scotland in February 2000 was: Girvan Dempsey; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Mike Mullins, Denis Hickie; Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer; Peter Clohessy, Keith Wood (capt), John Hayes, Mick Galwey, Malcolm O’Kelly, Simon Easterby, Kieron Dawson, Anthony Foley.

Replacements: Rob Henderson, David Humphreys, Jeremy Davidson, Justin Fitzpatrick, Frankie Sheahan, Trevor Brennan, Guy Easterby.