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O'Gara and Hickie save day in glorious Cardiff madness

Millennium marvels Wales 24 Ireland 25 March 22, 2003

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GLORY DAYS: Ronan O’Gara celebrates victory with David Humphreys (10) and Kevin Maggs over Wales during the 2003 Six Nations. Pic: Sportsfile.

GLORY DAYS: Ronan O’Gara celebrates victory with David Humphreys (10) and Kevin Maggs over Wales during the 2003 Six Nations. Pic: Sportsfile.

Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

GLORY DAYS: Ronan O’Gara celebrates victory with David Humphreys (10) and Kevin Maggs over Wales during the 2003 Six Nations. Pic: Sportsfile.

Perhaps, above all else, it's the spontaneity that's missing from these locked-down days without sport.

The beauty of rocking up to a stadium or tuning into a match on TV, is the simple fact that you've no idea how the whole thing will play out.

With no script, the whole thing can take on a life of its own - and the intrigue is in the unknown.

No one who arrived at the Millennium Stadium on this sunny afternoon for Ireland's fourth Six Nations match of the 2003 season could have foreseen the madness that was about to unfold, in what has largely become a forgotten classic.

Ireland came to Cardiff unbeaten, on the back of a three-point win over France in Dublin and our success-starved fans were beginning to contemplate the idea of a Grand Slam.

Wins away to Wales were almost run of the mill at that stage. Ireland hadn't lost at the Cardiff Arms Park, Wembley or the new ground since the early 1980s. Few, if any of those games, contained the kind of drama that would emerge this day.

Under Steve Hansen, Wales were enduring a terrible campaign. They lost to Italy on the opening day, were well beaten at home by England and lost at Murrayfield in round three.

Talent

Despite possessing plenty of talent, they were two years away from their breakout Grand Slam win against Ireland. Not that they were quiet on this afternoon.

Their form was terrible but the locals still turned out and found their team staring down the barrel of another loss midway through the second-half, after Keith Gleeson nabbed a pair of tries and David Humphreys kicked Ireland into a 22-14 lead with 15 minutes to go.

Given Ireland's recent record, the away fans could forgive themselves for allowing their minds to drift ahead to the finale against England at home and a crack at a Grand Slam, but Wales had a resilient streak.

With the Irish defence flagging, Gareth Thomas went over for a converted try and Stephen Jones narrowed the gap to just one point.

Thus, the stage was set going into the final moments when the madness ensued.

In the days before the countdown clock, the fourth official appeared on the touchline to indicate there would be four additional minutes.

Ireland promptly conceded a scrum-penalty and, two minutes into the allotted time, Jones nailed a superb drop-goal that sent the locals into a fervour that would have taken the roof off, if it had been closed.

Up on the big screen, Hansen sighed with relief but down on the pitch the Irish team grit their teeth and vowed to go again.

Ronan O'Gara kicked off, Donncha O'Callaghan batted back the ball from a sea of red jerseys and, between them, Gleeson and Justin Fitzpatrick funnelled the ball back to Peter Stringer who in turn whipped it into his long-standing half-back partner's path.

In a split second, the out-half made his mind up - dropping the ball to his toe and delivering the sweetest of strikes from just shy of 40m to restore the lead, within 30 seconds of losing it.

Still, there was time for more and another penalty afforded Wales one last chance to win it.

From the line-out, Jones shaped to kick but Brian O'Driscoll crowded his space and forced him to run it. A few phases later, he thought better of it again.

Still, Wales came. Justin Bishop got away with what looked like a deliberate knock-on, but Colin Charvis got the ball back and surged to beneath the Irish posts to set up what looked like the perfect chance.

Dwayne Peel found his man, but he failed to take it cleanly and the moment's hesitation was all Denis Hickie needed, as he raced up and pulled off a remarkable block.

Eventually, Ireland recovered it and got it off the pitch. Anthony Foley raised his arms to the sky in celebration, but it was a wonder he had the energy.

It felt like the whole stadium was exhausted, as they drew breath and contemplated the wonderful madness they had witnessed.

A week later Martin Johnson and his mates arrived in Lansdowne Road and blew the Irish Slam hopes away, meaning the Cardiff effort had been in vain.

But for four minutes of madness, 70,000 people forgot everything else in their lives and focused on a glorified drop-goal competition - and it seemed like the only thing that mattered.

Oh, to experience something similar again.

In this series, our writers have selected their favourite sporting moment at which they were in attendance, either in the press box or in the stand