Rugby Union: A nerve-racking 1999 - the year the action went down to the wire: The Red Dragon theatre's final curtain

Five Nations' Championship at Wembley Wales v England
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The Independent Online
"AS LONG as we beat the English," sang the Stereophonics in their deceptively simple but intensely patriotic little Five Nations ditty, "we don't care." And true to the sentiments expressed in those lyrics, the Welsh did not care a fig: not for Lawrence Dallaglio or Martin Johnson, not for England's status as Grand Slammers designate and certainly not for the manner of their victory, which was achieved in the third minute of injury time when Scott Gibbs barrelled his way through the defence for a try duly converted by his fellow Lion, Neil Jenkins. It was not so much a case of "Three lions on my shirt" as "Two Lions up your shirt".

In the final international championship match of the millennium - and, thanks to Italy's imminent appearance among the top brass of European rugby, the final Five Nations match full stop - Wales registered one of the more improbable victories in living memory. Forced to accept the mother and father of all hidings during the first 40 minutes, during which England outscored them three-zip in the try count, they were not truly at the races until Andre Watson, the South African referee who would subsequently render the World Cup final between Australia and France almost unwatchable, penalised Tim Rodber for an illegal tackle on Colin Charvis as the clock ticked past the 80.

It was a marginal call, but there was nothing remotely marginal about Jenkins' touch-finder. The Ginger Monster booted the Red Dragonhood all the way from their own 22-metre line to England's, and with the line-out possession duly secured, Gibbs thundered past a still bemused and befuddled Rodber on his way to the jackpot. Wales were still a point adrift, but Jenkins had been swinging the set of golf clubs concealed in his right boot with Trevino-style accuracy throughout the afternoon. England knew they were done for, and to make matters worse, the successful conversion ensured that Scotland would end the century as champions of the northern hemisphere.

It was a ridiculous game for England to lose; they played 75 per cent of the rugby and occupied 80 per cent of the territory, statistics that should have guaranteed them a first title since 1996. But their discipline was shoddy and their decision-making distinctly flawed; indeed, there was just the hint of a superiority complex at work as they shunned kickable penalties in the final quarter. How they paid for their presumption.

And the boyos? They were wonderfully proud and passionate. Not only Gibbs and company, but Tom Jones and Max Boyce, the pre-match troubadours, and the red-scarved, full-voiced throng who turned Wembley, the Red Dragons' rented rugby accommodation, into something as fundamentally and unmistakeably Welsh as a pint of warm bitter in Tiger Bay. After 90 years of Five Nations theatre, what better way to mark the running down of the curtain than with a piece of genuine sporting drama? It was just about perfect.

CHRIS HEWETT

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