Six Nations: Matt Dawson & Shane Horgan remember 2001's delayed finale

England lift 2001 Six Nations
England retained the Six Nations crown, but fell short of the Grand Slam they craved in Dublin
Guinness Six Nations: England v Wales
Venue: Twickenham Stadium Date: Saturday, 7 March Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales & Radio Cymru, with text commentary on BBC Sport website and app.

The coronavirus outbreak that has caused the postponement of Italy's matches against Ireland and England has presented an extraordinary challenge to Six Nations organisers.

But not a unique one.

Back in 2001, an outbreak of foot and mouth disease - a highly infectious illness affecting livestock - was only contained after more than six million farm animals had been culled in the United Kingdom.

To restrict its spread across the Irish Sea, Ireland's final three Six Nations matches, away to Scotland and Wales and at home to England in the final round, were postponed and played six months later than originally planned.

When England arrived in Dublin in the autumn, they were attempting to finally complete a Grand Slam after winning each of their previous four games by a margin of at least 29 points.

Matt Dawson started at scrum-half for England. Shane Horgan was on the wing for Ireland. Both were part of Thursday's Matt Dawson show on BBC Radio 5 live.

'Away on your jollies, lads!'

Shane Horgan
Horgan scored 21 tries in 65 Tests for Ireland

Shane Horgan: "There was a bit of messing around at the start when the officials didn't know how bad the foot and mouth outbreak was going to be, but then a blanket diktat came down: 'There is nothing going to be going on for at least three months, so away on your jollies, lads!'

"The first match to go was our away match against Wales. It was originally scheduled for 4 March. At that point, I wasn't in the team! Denis Hickie had taken my place in the win over France a fortnight before and I was in Ireland's A team to face Wales.

"When we got the call to say the match was off we had a brilliant night out and didn't do anything for six months in the end.

"It was a different time. You weren't allowed to train on any pitch because of the nature of foot and mouth and, at the start of professionalism, weights weren't really a big thing. It really was down time.

"And by the time the match came back around I was back in the team - sweet as a nut!"

'We were creaming everyone'

Matt Dawson
Dawson's involvement at Lansdowne Road came to an early end after he suffered a first-half injury

Matt Dawson: "That 2001 season, England were on fire. We were like France have been in the 2020 tournament and - without bigging it up too much - a little bit more.

"We were creaming everyone, just having such a great season. There were a host of young lads like Iain Balshaw and Ben Cohen, absolutely ripping it apart and the break put the brakes on.

"We went on the Lions tour to Australia in the summer. We lost that series 2-1 against the Wallabies and the Lions tour did not go well for a lot of the English players.

"There were some injuries as well, we were missing Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio by the time we went to play Ireland. A lot can happen in six months."

Grand Slam slips away once more

Matt Dawson and Martin Johnson are presented with the 2001 Six Nations
England captain Martin Johnson (right) travelled to Lansdowne Road and watched from the stands after an arm injury ruled him out of the match

For the third successive year, England saw their bid for a Grand Slam scuppered at the final hurdle.

Dawson was forced off early with an injury as a gleeful Lansdowne Road watched Ireland captain Keith Wood's try pave the way to a famous 20-14 victory.

England were presented with the Six Nations trophy on the final whistle, but the team could barely raise a smile after seeing their ambitions of a clean sweep thwarted once more.

"It was very hard for us to swallow, especially as it was so similar to last year when we also lost out on the Grand Slam with the defeat at Murrayfield," said Dawson at the time.

After being seeing France win a Grand Slam in 2002, England finally landed it in 2003, eight months before winning the Rugby World Cup.

Top Stories

More from the Six Nations

Elsewhere on the BBC

Featured