The Top 10 Most Remarkable Rugby Moments of All Time

The Top 10 Most Remarkable Rugby Moments of All Time

18 min read

Jonah Lomu Scoring in Rugby

Rugby is a sport that has captivated fans around the world with its thrilling moments of skill, determination, and sheer brilliance. Over the years, the rugby world has witnessed countless unforgettable moments that have left an indelible mark on the sport's history. From stunning tries to heart-stopping tackles, here are the top 10 most remarkable rugby moments of all time.

1. Jonny Wilkinson's Drop Goal (2003)

Jonny Wilkinson's Drop Goal in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final is etched into the annals of rugby history as one of the most remarkable moments ever witnessed on the field. This iconic incident unfolded in a contest that pitted England against Australia in a battle for rugby supremacy. What makes this moment truly exceptional is its multifaceted significance.

First and foremost, it was a watershed moment for English rugby. The nation had a rich rugby tradition but had never tasted World Cup glory until that fateful day. Wilkinson's drop goal, executed with clinical precision, secured England's first-ever World Cup victory. This historic win was a culmination of years of effort, marking a milestone in the sport's history.

The intensity of the moment cannot be overstated. The match had entered extra time with a tied score of 17-17, adding immense pressure to an already high-stakes encounter. Wilkinson's ability to remain composed under such immense pressure showcased not only his athletic prowess but also his mental fortitude, earning him enduring respect in the rugby world.

The drop goal itself was a thing of beauty, a testament to Wilkinson's extraordinary kicking skills and unerring accuracy. It sailed smoothly between the uprights from a daunting 40-meter distance, leaving no room for error. This display of precision and skill was a true marvel of rugby craftsmanship.

Moreover, Jonny Wilkinson's name became synonymous with excellence and clutch performances. He transcended his role as an athlete to become an iconic figure in the rugby universe, inspiring aspiring players worldwide to strive for greatness.

Beyond its immediate impact, this drop goal left a lasting legacy. It revitalized rugby in England and contributed to the global growth of the sport. It became a symbol of rugby's ability to produce moments of unparalleled drama and excitement, drawing new fans and participants to the game.

We previously covered Wilkinson and named him the 10th best player of all time! Read more in our article: Rugby Royalty: The Greatest Rugby Players of all time

2. The 'Hand of Back' (1973)

The 'Hand of Back' moment in the 1973 Barbarians vs. New Zealand match has become legendary in rugby lore due to its sheer audacity, skill, and the mesmerizing quality it brought to the game. This moment unfolded during a match that was already steeped in anticipation, as the Barbarians, an invitational team renowned for their adventurous and free-flowing style of rugby, squared off against the formidable New Zealand All Blacks.

At the heart of this remarkable moment was Fergus Slattery, a player known for his daring and creative approach to the game. As the Barbarians launched a daring counter-attack, Slattery found himself in a precarious position. Surrounded by New Zealand defenders and with limited time and space to act, he made a split-second decision that would go down in rugby history.

With sublime dexterity and a deep understanding of the game's dynamics, Slattery executed a deft pass behind his back. This instinctive move, which defied conventional rugby norms, caught everyone by surprise, including the New Zealand defense. The pass was executed with such precision that it found its target, Gareth Edwards, who was poised to exploit the opportunity.

Gareth Edwards, one of the greatest scrum-halves to ever grace the rugby field, received the pass in full stride. With impeccable timing and a sense of anticipation that bordered on the supernatural, Edwards took the ball and surged forward, weaving his way through the New Zealand defense. What followed was a breathtaking display of individual brilliance as Edwards sprinted toward the try line, leaving a trail of bewildered defenders in his wake.

The try that resulted from this audacious play was not just a score on the scoreboard; it was a work of art, a testament to the beauty of rugby's free-flowing style. It showcased the spontaneity, creativity, and innovation that rugby, at its best, can embody. This moment captured the essence of the Barbarians' ethos, emphasizing that rugby is not just a sport but a form of artistic expression, where players can break free from convention and create magic on the field.

3. The 'Miracle Match' (1990)

The 'Miracle Match' of 1990 is a storied chapter in the history of rugby, celebrated for the extraordinary upset it produced and the indomitable spirit displayed by the French rugby team. This monumental semi-final clash during the Rugby World Cup left an indelible mark on the sport for several compelling reasons.

To set the stage, it's crucial to understand the context. New Zealand, the perennial powerhouse of rugby, was widely considered the favorite to win the 1990 Rugby World Cup. Their reputation for dominance on the rugby field had cast a long shadow over the tournament, and they were expected to breeze through to the finals.

However, rugby has a unique ability to defy predictions, and the semi-final encounter between France and New Zealand in 1990 was a vivid illustration of this unpredictability. Throughout the match, the French team displayed an unmatched tenacity and a relentless fighting spirit, refusing to be overwhelmed by the mighty All Blacks.

As the game entered its final moments, the score remained tantalizingly close, and the outcome hung in the balance. It was in these heart-pounding closing seconds that Serge Blanco, the French fullback and a true luminary of the game, etched his name into rugby folklore. Blanco's incredible try was a masterclass in individual brilliance, determination, and seizing the moment.

In a dazzling display of speed, agility, and vision, Blanco embarked on a breathtaking counter-attack from deep within his own half. As he sliced through the New Zealand defense with lightning-fast footwork and elusive sidesteps, the crowd watched in awe. Blanco's audacious run was a testament to his remarkable skills, but it also embodied the collective belief of his team that victory was still within their grasp.

The try that Blanco scored in those final seconds was not merely a game-changer; it was a historical moment that sent shockwaves through the rugby world. It signaled the end of New Zealand's dominance and the rise of a new era in rugby, where underdogs could achieve the impossible. The French victory in the 'Miracle Match' became a source of inspiration for rugby teams everywhere, proving that with determination, teamwork, and unwavering belief, even the mightiest opponents could be toppled.

4. Jonah Lomu's Dominance (1995)

Jonah Lomu's dominance during the 1995 Rugby World Cup is etched in rugby history as a showcase of unparalleled power, speed, and athleticism. His performance in that tournament not only left an indelible mark on the sport but also elevated him to legendary status for several compelling reasons.

Firstly, Jonah Lomu was an extraordinary talent who possessed a unique blend of physical attributes rarely seen in rugby. Standing at 6 feet 5 inches (196 cm) tall and weighing around 260 pounds (118 kg), he was an imposing figure on the rugby field. However, it was his remarkable speed and agility that set him apart. Lomu possessed the sprinting pace of a world-class winger combined with the size and strength of a forward, making him a truly unstoppable force.

In the 1995 World Cup, Lomu's performances were nothing short of sensational. He became the tournament's top try-scorer, crossing the try line an astonishing seven times in just five matches. What made his tries so memorable was the manner in which he scored them. Lomu didn't just score tries; he bulldozed through opposing defenders with astonishing ease, leaving a trail of would-be tacklers in his wake.

One of the most iconic moments of the tournament came during the semi-final match against England. In a breathtaking display of power and speed, Lomu single-handedly dismantled the English defense, scoring four tries in a display of dominance that has rarely been matched in the history of the sport. His ability to brush aside defenders as if they were mere obstacles demonstrated not only his physical prowess but also his mental fortitude and unwavering focus.

Lomu's performances in the 1995 World Cup were a revelation, captivating rugby fans and transcending the sport itself. He became a global phenomenon, attracting new audiences to rugby with his awe-inspiring displays of athleticism. His impact extended beyond the field, as he became a symbol of inspiration for aspiring rugby players worldwide.

Furthermore, Jonah Lomu's journey was a testament to the human spirit's ability to overcome adversity. He battled a rare kidney disorder that threatened to derail his career, but he defied the odds to become one of rugby's greatest ever players. His resilience and determination in the face of adversity added to the legend of Jonah Lomu.

5. Nelson Mandela Presents the 1995 World Cup (1995)

The presentation of the 1995 Rugby World Cup by South African President Nelson Mandela stands as one of the most poignant and powerful moments in the history of both rugby and the broader narrative of South African reconciliation. This moment transcended the sport, symbolizing the extraordinary capacity of sports to serve as a unifying force, particularly in a nation emerging from the shadows of apartheid.

To fully grasp the significance of this moment, it's crucial to appreciate the historical context. South Africa was in the midst of a profound transformation in the mid-1990s. Apartheid, a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination, had officially ended, and Nelson Mandela had been released from prison after 27 years of incarceration. The nation was in the process of transitioning to democracy, and there were still deep racial divisions and societal tensions.

The 1995 Rugby World Cup, hosted by South Africa, provided a unique opportunity to foster reconciliation and unity in a nation that had been torn apart by decades of racial strife. The Springboks, South Africa's national rugby team, had traditionally been associated with the white minority, and their emblem, the green and gold Springbok jersey, had been a symbol of apartheid-era divisions.

However, Mandela recognized the potential of the tournament to bring the nation together. He famously donned a Springbok jersey and cap, signaling his support for the team and the event. His gesture sent a powerful message of inclusivity and forgiveness, encouraging all South Africans, regardless of their racial background, to rally behind the national team.

The moment of Nelson Mandela presenting the Webb Ellis Cup to Springbok captain Francois Pienaar after South Africa's victory in the final against New Zealand was a defining moment in this journey of reconciliation. Mandela's presence on the field, wearing the Springbok jersey and cap, was symbolic of his commitment to healing the wounds of the past and forging a unified nation.

As he handed the World Cup trophy to Pienaar, Mandela's actions spoke volumes. It was a symbolic passing of the torch from a nation once divided to one united under the banner of sport. The image of Mandela and Pienaar together, the former prisoner and the rugby captain, became an enduring symbol of hope and reconciliation.

The impact of this moment extended far beyond the rugby field. It sent a powerful message to the world about the power of sport to transcend differences and promote unity. It also played a pivotal role in South Africa's transition to democracy and the dismantling of apartheid's legacy.

In conclusion, Nelson Mandela's presentation of the 1995 Rugby World Cup was a transformative moment in the history of South Africa and rugby. It exemplified the extraordinary power of sport to bridge divides, heal wounds, and unite a nation. Mandela's vision of a rainbow nation, where all South Africans could come together, was embodied in that iconic moment, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of people worldwide and serving as a testament to the potential of sports to bring about positive social change.

6. The 'Hand of God' (1987)

The 'Hand of God' moment in the inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup is eternally etched in rugby history, primarily due to the sheer audacity and brilliance displayed by David Campese. This moment was a dazzling display of individual skill and rugby intelligence that left an indelible mark on the sport.

Firstly, it's essential to set the context. The 1987 Rugby World Cup marked the inception of the tournament, making it a historic and significant event in rugby history. The competition was fierce, and the final showdown between New Zealand and Australia was eagerly anticipated.

David Campese, or 'Campo' as he is affectionately known, was already a highly regarded player renowned for his exceptional attacking prowess and innovative style of play. He possessed an innate ability to read the game, anticipate opponents' movements, and execute audacious plays.

In the final match against the mighty New Zealand All Blacks, Campese's moment of genius occurred. With a New Zealand player bearing down on him and the All Blacks' defense closing in, Campese made a decision that only a player of his caliber could envision. He executed a perfectly weighted chip kick over the heads of the defenders, and then, with breathtaking speed, he chased his own kick.

What followed was a sublime display of rugby skill. Campese caught his own chip kick just meters from the try line, gracefully evading the oncoming defenders. He then crossed the try line, scoring a sensational try. This play showcased Campese's unmatched rugby IQ, vision, and execution. It wasn't just a try; it was a work of art.

The nickname 'Campo' became synonymous with audacity, creativity, and rugby genius. Campese's 'Hand of God' try was not just a pivotal moment in the match; it was a rugby masterclass that encapsulated the essence of his style of play. He displayed the kind of intuition and flair that elevates rugby beyond mere physicality to a realm of strategy and innovation.

Moreover, Campese's 'Hand of God' try remains a source of inspiration for aspiring rugby players worldwide. It emphasizes that rugby is not just about brute force but also about cunning and inventiveness. Campese's audacious play served as a reminder that in rugby, as in life, it's the moments of creativity and brilliance that are celebrated and remembered.

7. The Calcutta Cup Calamity (1871)

The Calcutta Cup Calamity in 1871 holds a hallowed place in the history of rugby, as it not only represents the origin of one of the sport's most enduring rivalries but also marks the seminal moment when international rugby was first played. This historic match was instrumental in laying the foundation for the modern game of rugby.

To truly appreciate the significance of this event, one must travel back in time to the mid-19th century when rugby was still in its nascent form. The game was evolving rapidly, with various regions and schools in the United Kingdom playing their own variations of rugby football.

The 1871 Calcutta Cup match was the brainchild of a group of enthusiastic rugby players from Scotland. These players, who were studying in London, challenged their English counterparts to a match. The two teams agreed to meet on March 27, 1871, at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh, Scotland.

This historic encounter was played under a set of rules agreed upon by both teams, which laid the groundwork for what we recognize today as rugby union. While there were still some differences from the modern game, such as the absence of a crossbar on the goalposts, this match marked the birth of international rugby.

The significance of this match was not only in its status as the first-ever international rugby game but also in the rivalry it initiated. The trophy awarded to the winner, the Calcutta Cup, added further prestige and significance to the encounter. The cup, originally crafted from the remnants of a melted-down rupee coin, was a gift from an English rugby club based in India.

The match itself was a close and fiercely contested affair, ending in a 1-0 victory for England, with a try scored by Andrew Watson. The single try of the game may have been a modest scoreline, but its impact was profound. It marked the beginning of a storied rivalry between England and Scotland, a tradition that endures to this day as they compete annually for the Calcutta Cup.

Furthermore, this match was a pivotal moment in the evolution of rugby, as it helped solidify the rules and principles of the sport. The success of this international contest laid the foundation for rugby's global expansion and the eventual establishment of international rugby unions and competitions.

8. Wales' Grand Slam (1971)

Wales' Grand Slam triumph in 1971 stands as one of the most significant and cherished moments in the history of Welsh rugby. This historic achievement not only demonstrated the excellence of the Welsh team but also solidified their place in rugby folklore for several compelling reasons.

To begin with, it's crucial to understand the context of the Five Nations Championship, which was the precursor to the modern Six Nations. Back in 1971, the Five Nations was one of the most prestigious rugby tournaments in the world, featuring Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, and France. Winning the Grand Slam in this competition meant defeating all four other participating nations in a single season, a feat of remarkable difficulty given the high level of competition.

Wales' Grand Slam in 1971 was exceptional because it showcased a level of dominance that was rare in international rugby at the time. The Welsh team, under the leadership of captain John Dawes and with the extraordinary skill of players like Gareth Edwards and Barry John, not only won all their matches but did so in style. They played an expansive and thrilling brand of rugby that left fans and opponents in awe.

One of the most memorable matches of the campaign was Wales' clash with Scotland. In a closely contested encounter, Wales secured victory with a try known as "The Greatest Try Ever Scored." This try involved a series of breathtaking passes and moments of individual brilliance, culminating in a score that is still celebrated as a testament to the beauty of rugby.

The achievement was not just about winning matches; it was about capturing the imagination of rugby fans worldwide. Wales played with a flair and style that transcended the sport, making them not just champions but entertainers on the field.

Moreover, the 1971 Grand Slam was a moment of immense pride and celebration for the Welsh nation. Rugby holds a special place in the hearts of the Welsh people, and this triumph was seen as a source of national pride and unity. It was a reflection of the passion and dedication that Welsh rugby fans have for their team.

The impact of the 1971 Grand Slam extended far beyond the tournament itself. It served as a source of inspiration for future generations of Welsh rugby players, encouraging them to strive for greatness and carry on the tradition of excellence established by the '71 team.

9. Australia's Extra-Time Triumph (1999)

The 1999 Rugby World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa is etched in rugby history as a heart-pounding clash that showcased the sport's drama, resilience, and unwavering spirit. This match was a rollercoaster of emotions, ultimately culminating in a thrilling victory for the Australian Wallabies in extra time, making it one of the most unforgettable moments in rugby.

To appreciate the magnitude of this semi-final, one must first understand the caliber of both teams. Australia and South Africa were two of the world's rugby powerhouses, each with a rich rugby heritage and a passionate fan base. The semi-final clash was anticipated with immense excitement, as it was expected to be a test of strength, strategy, and determination.

The match itself did not disappoint. It was a grueling battle from start to finish, marked by intense physicality and tactical brilliance. Both teams traded blows throughout regulation time, and when the final whistle blew, the score was deadlocked at 18-18.

With the match tied, the two teams entered extra time, adding to the tension and drama. Extra time in rugby is a true test of endurance, as the physical demands on the players become even more strenuous. The stakes were incredibly high, as the winner would secure a place in the Rugby World Cup final, with a shot at the ultimate prize.

What unfolded during extra time was a testament to the resilience and character of both teams. It was a period of relentless determination and incredible skill. The Wallabies, under the leadership of captain John Eales, seized the moment with a drop goal by Stephen Larkham, a feat of precision and composure under immense pressure.

Larkham's drop goal secured a 24-23 victory for Australia, sending their fans into ecstasy and breaking the hearts of South African supporters. The match had showcased the epitome of sportsmanship and the spirit of rugby, as both teams had given their all and displayed exemplary skill and sportsmanship.

This semi-final victory for Australia was more than just a win; it was a triumph of character and resilience. It represented the ability of rugby to bring out the best in athletes, pushing them beyond their limits in pursuit of victory. It also highlighted the unpredictable and thrilling nature of the sport, where moments of brilliance can decide the outcome of a match.

Furthermore, this dramatic victory propelled Australia into the 1999 Rugby World Cup final, where they would eventually go on to defeat France and claim their second Rugby World Cup title. The semi-final win over South Africa was a pivotal step in their journey to becoming world champions.

10. The Black Ferns' Dominance (1998-present)

Since 1998, the Black Ferns, New Zealand's women's rugby team, have been a dominant force in the world of women's rugby, setting the bar for excellence and inspiring the growth of women's rugby globally. This remarkable team has achieved numerous World Cup victories, solidifying their status as the most successful team in the history of the tournament.

What sets the Black Ferns apart is their remarkable consistency and unwavering commitment to excellence. Their achievements extend beyond World Cup triumphs to their consistent performance in various international competitions. Year after year, they have showcased their exceptional skills and professionalism, making them a formidable presence in women's rugby.

The impact of the Black Ferns reaches far beyond the rugby field. Their success has served as a catalyst for the growth of women's rugby around the world. They have motivated countless young girls to take up the sport, leading to increased investment, opportunities, and recognition for female players on a global scale.

Individual athletes within the Black Ferns have also made their mark as trailblazers in women's rugby. Players like Portia Woodman, Kendra Cocksedge, and Fiao'o Faamausili have not only contributed to the team's success but have also become role models for aspiring female rugby players worldwide.

In their home country of New Zealand, the Black Ferns hold a special place in the hearts of rugby fans. Their accomplishments have not only added to the nation's rich rugby culture but have also shattered gender barriers in the sport, highlighting the excitement and competitiveness of women's rugby.

Moreover, the Black Ferns' dominance has spurred other nations to invest in women's rugby and raise their level of competitiveness. As a result, the global landscape of women's rugby has become more competitive, with multiple nations vying for top honors.


These remarkable rugby moments have defined the sport, capturing the hearts of fans and reminding us of the beauty of rugby's spirit and passion. Whether it's a World Cup-winning drop goal or an inspirational act of sportsmanship, these moments continue to resonate with rugby enthusiasts worldwide, making the sport the incredible spectacle it is today.