15 miracle rugby plays throughout history

We take a look at some of the moments of magic that have lit up the international arena in men’s, women’s, sevens and U20 rugby.

One of the great things about rugby is that players can leave their mark on games in so many different ways.

Those possessing pace, power, a sleight of hand, wonderful vision and kicking skills have all contributed to the sport’s lengthy highlights reel.

Here, we narrow down the selection to 15 moments of individual brilliance from the men’s and women’s game, in 15s and sevens, and at U20 level.

Sinbad dummies to himself

James Simpson-Daniel was a genius of a player who would have had many more than 10 England caps had it not been for untimely injuries. The Gloucester winger, nicknamed Sinbad, was uncapped when he lined up for an England XV against the Barbarians in May 2002, directly opposite Jonah Lomu in what looked like a rugby mismatch given the respective size of the players.

One dummy pass to himself in midfield, the likes of which Twickenham had never seen before, opened up space for Simpson-Daniel who then proceeded to burn Lomu on the outside for a marvellous try. With one moment of sorcery and searing pace, Simpson-Daniel had announced his arrival on the international stage.


With a sleight of hand normally associated with street magic, and the most exquisite piece of timing, Didier Cordorniou flummoxed three England defenders in the 1981 version of ‘Le Crunch’ to allow his left wing, Laurent Pardo to stroll home for Les Bleus. 

Realising he didn’t have the pace to outstrip the cover himself, Cordorniou checked his run, turned back inside and then produced a reverse pass from nowhere that left John Carleton, Clive Woodward and Marcus Rose almost tackling themselves.

Pass-master Russell

Finn Russell’s pass to Huw Jones in Scotland’s Calcutta Cup win over England in 2018 has been hailed as “the greatest pass ever”.

Receiving the ball on halfway, the mercurial Scotland fly-half delivered a pinpoint pass off his left hand from all of 30 metres, which sailed over the head of Jonathan Joseph and landed in the arms of Huw Jones without the centre having to break stride. Not content with that outrageous piece of skill, Russell then produced another miss-pass later in the same move that enabled Sean Maitland to squeeze home in the corner.

The eyes have it

With the All Blacks having never lost at a Rugby World Cup, a run stretching to 10 matches, it was always going to take something special to beat them in the 1991 tournament. Fortunately for Australia, David Campese was at his sublime best, none more so than when the two great trans-Tasman rivals met in the semi-finals. 

International rugby’s leading try-scorer at the time had already increased his record with a score in the corner when he expertly gathered in Michael Lynagh’s chip ahead and then turned the All Blacks defence inside and out before putting Tim Horan in for a try with an audacious ‘no-look’ pass.

Trail of destruction

The trail of destruction left by a bulldozing Jonah Lomu in the semi-final of Rugby World Cup 1995 is second only to Nelson Mandela handing the Webb Ellis Cup to Francois Pienaar as an iconic moment of that particular year’s tournament in South Africa.

Lomu rampaged his way to four tries in the semi-final defeat of England but the run that left Tony Underwood looking like a rag doll and left Mike Catt flat on his back will be the one etched in everyone’s memory.

Hand of God

If Campese’s ‘no-look’ pass was the best of its type in 15s, it’s going to be hard to top Sevuloni Mocenacagi’s incredible offload to Jerry Tuwai against Australia in the sevens arena. His left-handed, round-the-back pass with a hitch-kick thrown in for good measure, all in one movement while looking the other way, beggared belief at the HSBC Los Angeles Sevens 2020.

Nuts about the Brazil scrum

Brazilian sport is known for beautiful outcomes not brute force, thanks to Pelé and the rest of the South American country’s footballing superstars. However, the Brazil rugby team’s scrum made the rest of the rugby world sit up and take notice in the Americas Rugby Championship.

No opponent was spared in the 2019 edition of the cross-continental competition, as time and time again the opposition pack found themselves back-pedalling. However, notoriety was gained when they completely dismantled the Maori All Blacks' scrum, pushing them back a good 15 metres, in front of 30,000 ecstatic fans at Estádio do Morumbi in São Paulo.

Sam’s the man

Sam Davies showed nerves of steel, and no little skill, for someone so young to defeat South Africa and send Wales into their first and, to date, only appearance in the final of the World Rugby U20 Championship in 2013.

Davies put a try on a plate for winger Ashley Evans with a perfectly-weighted cross-field kick and then proceeded to nail the touchline conversion. Wales won 18-17 and Davies, now playing professionally for the Dragons in Wales, was later named World Rugby Junior Player of the Year for 2013.

Kelly’s the hero

Kelly Brazier was already a legend of New Zealand rugby when the Black Ferns Sevens met Australia in the inaugural women’s final of the Commonwealth Games in 2018, but her wonder try that secured the gold medal lifted her status to another level altogether. 

In the fifth minute of sudden-death extra-time, Brazier pinned her ears back and raced home from just outside her own 22. It was a monumental effort after a torrid 19 minutes of action in the sweltering heat inside the Robina Stadium on the Gold Coast.

Revved up Robinson

Australia had the greatest defence, and arguably the best full-back, in the world but they were powerless to stop Jason Robinson in the first test of the 2001 series against the British and Irish Lions in Brisbane.

Receiving the ball on the Wallabies’ 22-metre line seemingly with no room to work in, the diminutive winger swivelled his hips one way and then the other, before producing a burst of speed that left Chris Latham grasping at thin air.

“When Jason ran towards me, I thought, ‘five metres, surely that’s enough to cover myself, he’ll step inside as he always does’,” Latham recalled. “He started to come in and revved up those little legs of his and took off again. If you look back on your career and you’re ashamed of things like that, you have got to take a hard look at yourself because you’re just in a very long queue of people who’ve been burnt by Jason.”

King Carlos

Very few players on the planet would have ever tried something so audacious as Carlos Spencer’s deliberate nudge with his knee that lit up the All Blacks’ match against Italy in November 2000 at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa.

As Andrea Lo Cicero and fellow forward Luca Mastrodomenico lined up to put in a big shot on him, Spencer dropped the ball onto his knee and lifted it over their heads. Christian Cullen got to the bouncing ball first and then passed back inside to Spencer who finished off the move with a try under the posts.

ZZ Tops the lot

There haven’t exactly been many drop goals by forwards in test rugby, but Zinzan Brooke’s monstrous effort on the run for New Zealand against England in the semi-final of Rugby World Cup 1995 has to be the pick of the select bunch.

Unfortunately for the supremely gifted number eight, the moment was somewhat eclipsed that day by the spectacular four-try contribution of Jonah Lomu. However, Brooke made sure of his notoriety by repeating the trick while on tour in the two years following on from RWC 1995 – against South Africa in 1996 and Wales in 1997.

Of the modern-day professional number eights, only Italy’s Sergio Parisse can hold a light to Brookes’ footballing skills and versatility, so it is not surprising to see his name on the list – against Scotland in the Six Nations in 2009. RWC 2003 winner Neil Back also contributed a three-pointer from open play back when the competition moved to its current six-team format in 2000.

Henson’s hit

One youngster’s reputation was made, and another’s dented when Gavin Henson picked up England’s 18-year-old debutant, Mathew Tait, and unceremoniously dumped him to the ground in the 2005 Six Nations. Henson went on to be named man-of-the-match, while Tait had to wait another 16 months for his second cap. Tait, however, got to play in a Rugby World Cup final, in 2007, something which Henson never achieved.

Cherry on the cake

Talk about holding your nerve. In the last play of the semi-final against hosts France at the HSBC Paris Sevens in 2018, Olympic champions Australia won a penalty in their own 22 and took a quick tap.

The ball went through a couple more pairs of hands as Australia entered last chance saloon territory before Emilee Cherry got possession 45 metres out and raced home to not only book Australia’s place in the final but also secure her side the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series title for the second time in three seasons.

Read more: 10 of the greatest comeback matches of all time >>

Last updated: Sep 7, 2020, 11:15:50 AM
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