Six Nations Rugby: Best Punch-Ups in Tournament History
Two weeks into the 2014 RBS Six Nations, it's clear this is going to be one of the most hotly contested championships in years. But with so little to separate the top teams, it looks as if some players are resorting to dirty tactics even more so than usual.
Last weekend's round of matches saw fights break out in all three games.
In Dublin, Mike Phillips of Wales threw punches after Ireland's Paddy Jackson touched down for a try. The Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England saw an ongoing feud between the Scots' Ryan Wilson and England No. 6 Tom Wood. And France's clash with Italy in Paris produced the first double red card ever in Six Nations history.
But fisticuffs are nothing new in Europe's premier international rugby competition. Here we reveal the best punch-ups ever seen in Six Nations history. We might even stray into Five Nations territory, back when men really were men.
1. Rabah Slimani and Michele Rizzo Throw Headbutts, Get Sent off
There was no shortage of passion as Italy visited France in Paris last weekend, but tensions between the front rows boiled over to produce the first double red card since Italy joined the Five Nations to make it six in 2000.
Late in the game, with France already down to 14 men thanks to the sin-binning of Sebastien Vahaamahina, Italy prop Michele Rizzo aimed a headbutt at France's Rabah Slimani. The Frenchman responded with a headbutt of his own, and the pair could probably have called it quits at that stage.
But Rizzo wasn't going to settle for a draw.
While players from both teams grappled with the props, Rizzo aimed an uppercut at Slimani, which brought the brawl to referee Jaco Peyper's attention. After replays showed both men spoiling for the fight, they were sent off in disgrace.
2. Both Squads Pile in as Ireland Take on England
On a damp and dirty afternoon last year in Dublin, tempers boiled over after England took an early lead. Moments after Owen Farrell had put England ahead via a penalty, a routine maul descended into a mass game of argy-bargy, with almost all 30 players getting stuck in.
Unfortunately for fans of on-pitch boxing, no genuine punches were thrown, but the way both teams run from all corners of the field to get involved makes this something of a spectacle.
Geoff Parling and Donnacha Ryan in particular seem to take a disliking to each other, while the finger of blame might point to England's Dan Cole as the spark that lit the flames.
The scuffle did little to help Ireland, which eventually lost 12-6 to a gritty England side. It was a day for the kickers as neither team came close to a try, but England's Owen Farrell was on hand to put English minds at ease.
3. Mirco Bergamasco on a One-Man Mission Against Wales
From team brawls to one Italian intent on causing havoc: Mirco Bergamasco incurred the wrath of BBC commentator Jonathan Davies for his antics during Italy's 2012 clash with Wales.
The winger was lively from the kick-off, squaring up to Welsh giant George North after just six minutes. Disagreeing with North's tackle on Italy fly-half Kris Burton, Bergamasco sets out to let the Welshman know who's boss. He seems to have second thoughts, though, as his punch turns into a push. North is 109 kilograms of pure muscle, after all.
But Bergamasco rediscovered his fighting form after half-time, leaping to the defence of captain Sergio Parisse. Having taken Parisse out with a midair tackle, Wales' Leigh Halfpenny finds himself on the end of a Bergamasco grapple. Davies had seen enough by this point to label the Italian a "complete clown."
4. Paul O'Connell Batters Rob Sidoli
Irish hard man Paul O'Connell showed fans what a rugby/UFC crossover would look like as he took on Wales' Robert Sidoli in 2005.
With Ireland down by 16 points, the match was not finely poised, but the frustrated men in green had just seen a decent attacking opportunity thwarted by Welshman Dwayne Peel. Breaking out from a maul with Robert Sidoli in his arms, O'Connell opted against letting him down gently, instead showering him with a brace of punches as they grappled on the floor.
Wales eventually won 32-20 at the Millennium Stadium, surviving some nervy moments as they marched on toward a famous Grand Slam.
5. Wales and England in Vintage Punch-Up
Here's one from the archives. The year was 1987 and England were taking on Wales in Cardiff, back when the players might have been slighter but the fights just as ferocious.
Wales won the brutal Five Nations encounter 19-12, but both teams left everything on the field.
The lineout proved a significant flash point all afternoon as the forwards took every opportunity to familiarise themselves with each other. Wales No. 8 Phil Davies, in particular, took a spectacular shot to the jaw early on that left him on the turf.
The entire game was played out in a series of scuffles, but it clearly meant a lot to the fans. When was the last time you saw a pitch invasion at an international rugby match?
6. Scrum-Halfs Slug It out
Ireland's Peter Stringer has enjoyed more than his fair share of run-ins with Italians during his career. There was the famous scrap with the giant No. 8 Sergio Parisse in a 2007 World Cup warm-up. That tussle was eventually called a draw, but Stringer was not so lucky against Italy's stalwart scrum-half Alessandro Troncon.
Ireland were comfortably ahead in their 2001 clash with Italy as Peter Stringer was making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown. His opposite number, Troncon, took offence to the Irishman's sniping around the ruck.
However, instead of trying to outwit his opponent with skill and guile, Troncon decided to throw a huge haymaker at Stringer's jaw. The then-Munster player fell to the ground and Troncon was duly sent off.
Ireland went on to win 41-22 and, to make matters worse, a citing commission handed Troncon a three-week ban.
7. Cian Healy Hits Sam Warburton with a Cheap Shot
Alessandro Troncon would do well to take lessons from Ireland's Cian Healy. If you're going to punch someone on a rugby field, it's a good idea to make sure you don't get caught.
Last weekend's Six Nations fixture between Ireland and Wales saw Sam Warburton return to the Wales starting line-up. Coaches and players the world over know what an impact the Cardiff player can have on a team. To neutralise the threat he poses, what better way than to hit him in the face at the scrum?
Cian Healy knew what he was doing as he swung his fist up into Warburton's nose. Luckily for him, referee Wayne Barnes didn't spot it, and Warburton was left with a fuzzy head to go with a crushing 26-3 defeat.