VIDEOS: Nine of the most iconic drop-goals ever
Yet another thrilling chapter in the history of the Six Nations Championship was written in Paris last Saturday, when Ireland’s Johnny Sexton landed a dramatic late drop-goal to give his side a 15-13 victory over hosts France.
It was a stunning passage of play orchestrated by a gifted fly-half and executed by a team that simply refused to be beaten.
Sexton’s ability to think clearly and deliver under immense pressure in testing conditions was particularly impressive with an inch-perfect cross-kick to stretch the French defence almost as impressive as his 45m match-winning kick.
But make no mistake, this was a collective effort with the whole team showing incredible discipline and composure to recycle and retain the ball for an incredible 41 phases before scrum-half Conor Murray found his half back partner Sexton who then turned the game on its head in the most dramatic fashion.
But how does Sexton’s mind-blowing feat rank among other such moments of unrelenting will and individual brilliance?
Joel Stransky (South Africa) v New Zealand, Rugby World Cup Final, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, June 24, 1995
Stransky’s sweetly-struck right-footed drop goal in extra time propelled South Africa to their first World Cup success and set the seal on an unforgettable tournament.
With the clock ticking down in a tense and try-less encounter, a knock-on from the All Blacks deep inside their own half gifted the Boks great field position.
Joost van der Westhuizen then fizzed a pass from the back of the scrum to Stransky who slotted his kick under pressure from Mehrtens and with the weight of a nation’s hopes on his shoulders.
His kick gave South Africa a 15-12 lead over their arch rivals with just seven minutes to play at an emotionally-charged Ellis Park but they managed to hold on for a truly memorable triumph.
“I struck it superbly and when I looked up and saw how it was rotating and where it was going, I knew it could not miss,” Stransky recalled some years later.
Jonny Wilkinson (England) v Australia, Rugby World Cup Final, Telstra Stadium, Sydney, November 22, 2003
Wilkinson cemented his place in British sporting history with a superbly struck drop goal, hit with his weaker right foot, with just seconds left of extra time.
Lewis Moody, Mike Catt, Matt Dawson and Martin Johnson all played crucial roles in earning Wilkinson the field position and time to deliver what would be a knock-out blow and their ever-reliable No.10 did the rest from 25m with a host of desperate Wallabies clambering to cloud his view.
England still had to survive one last kick off and they did to the delight of their fans in the stadium and on the other side of the world.
“I knew I’d hit it in such a way that it wasn’t going to be the most powerful kick,” Wilkinson told PA Sport in 2015, “but it was going to be accurate. I knew from fairly early on it was going over.”
Stephen Larkham (Australia) v South Africa, Rugby World Cup Semi-Final, Twickenham, October 30, 1999
Larkham’s monster 48m effort is all the more amazing considering it was the first drop goal he had kicked in his international career.
The boot of Larkham’s team-mate Matt Burke and that of the Springboks’ Jannie de Beer had dominated the contest to that point with the latter landing a drop goal in the 86th minute of the clash to take it into extra time.
De Beer and Burke then traded further blows before Larkham’s outrageous effort, set up by a pass from his long-time half-back partner George Gregan, put them on course for the final. One final kick from Burke put the result beyond doubt and the Wallabies into final where they would beat France.
“I didn’t really think I had a chance,” Larkham told World Rugby in 2015, “so it was a really short run up and down on the foot pretty quick. It was an awkward drop, I remember that, I had to adjust half way through, the ball immediately started hooking and I just thought I hope it gets to the dead ball line, then all of a sudden it squared up and got it’s flight and it went well through the posts which was pretty good.”
Nick Evans (Harlequins) v Stade Francais, Heineken Cup, The Stoop, December 13, 2008
Evans’ entry on this list may not be so easy on the eye but it is more than a match for the others when it comes to drama.
Chasing the game after a Juan Martin Hernandez drop goal had appeared to put Stade in control of the contest, Quins rallied one final time with Evans at the heart of proceedings.
The Kiwi playmaker made two key linebreaks as his side hammered away at a stubborn Stade defence and battled the cold and wet conditions in the hope of earning one final shot at goal.
As the game entered the 85th minute and Quins recycled the ball for the 29th time, Evans dropped deep in the pocket and snatched an epic victory for the Premiership side.
“That was probably the ugliest drop-goal I have hit in my life, but it doesn’t matter how they go over. They all count,” said the former All Black following the game.
Jeremy Guscott (British & Irish Lions) v South Africa, 2nd Test, Growth Point Kings Park, Durban, June 28, 1997
The Lions were out-played and out-scored three tries to one but the boot of Neil Jenkins and ultimately Guscott sealed a famous 18-15 victory and an historic series triumph.
With the score locked at 15-all, the Lions’ forwards rumbled towards the Springboks’ line before Dawson swept the ball out to Guscott who stroked the ball between the posts with his right foot.
“After the final whistle, even though I was jumping up and down and giving it the 2-0 victory sign, back in the dressing room all I could think about was ‘what if I had missed?’,” Guscott told BBC Sport.
“Gregor [Townsend] would have dropped the goal if he had been there. ‘Jenks’ [Neil Jenkins] would have done it if he had been there. It just happened to be me. It was my time, my moment, one of the highlights of my career, for sure.”
Zinzan Brooke (New Zealand) v England, Rugby World Cup Semi-Final, June 18, 1995
New Zealand’s demolition of England at the 1995 World Cup is rightfully remembered as Jonah Lomu’s game thanks to his devastating four-try haul but let’s not forget Brooke’s cameo.
The legendary No.8 pounced on a poor clearance kick from England’s Ben Clarke, scooping the ball up just inside his own half.
He then surged into England territory and on the run and staring into the sun, he thundered over an audacious drop goal from fully 47m.
“My rugby skills came from the farm,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “We had a front yard that was 25 acres. We played rugby golf round the yard. Instead of hitting a ball with a club, you had to kick it into the holes. You really had to manipulate that ball round the course.
“People ask me about ’95, was that part of a plan? There was no plan on dropped-goals, I just went back to rugby golf. The ball came to me, and it was like I was back at home, in the yard, I just hit the thing.”
Ronan O’Gara (Ireland) v Wales, Six Nations, Millennium Stadium, March 21, 2009
If the pressure was building before kick-off in Cardiff with Ireland within reach of their first Grand Slam in 61 years then the heat was certainly on when Wales’ Stephen Jones slotted a drop goal to give the hosts a one point lead with just four minutes to play.
But the Irish were not to be denied. Jones kicked out on the full after Wales had taken the ball back into their 22 and Ireland won the subsequent lineout before driving into position for O’Gara to produce what was later voted the greatest moment in Irish rugby history.
“David Wallace was lined up to carry and once you see him carrying you know the ball was going to come back,” recalled O’Gara after the game. “I had my point picked out but once we got in from five metres Rory Best decided to get involved.
“The passing channel was blocked so I was roaring at him to get out of the way. I felt they were well offside but there was no way the referee was going to award a penalty so I just had to get the ball up as opposed to drive it up. I was very confident – I had the right imagery and visualised the kick going over.”
Rob Andrew (England) v Australia, Rugby World Cup quarter-final, Newlands, June 11, 1995
England sent defending champions Australia crashing out of the 1995 World Cup thanks to another dramatic final act – this time courtesy of Rob Andrew’s right boot.
With the scores locked at 22-all and 80 minutes long gone on the game clock, Martin Bayfield won a crucial lineout and was subsequently driven into the Wallabies’ half by his team-mates.
Scrum-half Dewi Morris then fed Andrew who sent the Wallabies packing with a brilliant long-range drop goal from an estimate 45m.
The Guardian’s Frank Keating wrote, “Andrew steadied himself and let fly a voluptuous kick. It was still soaring as it bisected the far-away H. For England, Heaven, for Australia, Hell.
“Never can a more daring or flamboyant or conclusive drop-kick ever have settled a game since the beginnings 130 years ago. The epic strike sealed an epic contest.”