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On this day: March 18, 2000. 'Leicester Lip' helps England clinch inaugural Six Nations championship

Austin Healey's hat-trick in victory over Italy meant defeat to Scotland on the final weekend was redundant

Austin Healey races through to score one of his three tries in England's 59-12 victory over Italy in Rome during the 2000 Six Nations. Getty Images
Austin Healey races through to score one of his three tries in England's 59-12 victory over Italy in Rome during the 2000 Six Nations. Getty Images

The turn of the century saw a new addition to the northern hemisphere's flagship rugby championship with Italy joining England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Many turned their noses up at the Azzurri having a place at Europe's top table but those noses were bloodied on the opening weekend of the championship as Italy pulled off a shock 34-20 victory over Scotland in Rome.

England began the tournament as favourites alongside France. The former were keen to shake off the demons of a nightmare World Cup a few months previous when Jannie de Beer literally kicked them out of the tournament while France were looking to build on a fine run that saw them reach the final.

Clive Woodward's England got their campaign off to a superb start with a 50-18 victory over Ireland before sailing across the Channel to inflict a 15-9 defeat on Les Bleus at the Stade de France.

Another impressive victory at home over Wales, courtesy of 21 points from the magnificent left foot of Jonny Wilkinson, meant England travelled to the Stadio Flaminio knowing victory coupled with a France defeat to Ireland the following day would be enough for a first Nations title since 1996.

While the 59-12 scoreline looks lopsided, Woodward admitted after the match it had been a much tougher encounter than the scoreboard indicated.

The match turned courtesy of a nine second-half minutes when Austin Healey touched down a hat-trick of tries to pull England clear.

Though Healey would go on to be a part of the England squad for the next few years, injury, and a testy relationship with Woodward, would see him miss out on a World Cup winner's medal in 2003.

The "Leicester Lip", as Healey was known suffered more than most from Woodward's change of tact after the 1999 World Cup debacle.

Woodward’s early philosophy as national coach was based on the “Total Football” ideals of the great Dutch football teams of the 1970s. Woodward didn’t want players pigeonholed by one position, instead wanting them to master the art of three or four, able to operate at a superior level to their opponents and fill in for a teammate at a moment’s notice.

Healey was the main benefactor of this early approach, able to operate at scrum-half, fly-half and on the wing, making him an almost automatic selection. However, after the 1999 World Cup exit, when De Beer kicked an incredible 34 of South Africa's 44 points in the quarter-final in Saint-Denis, Woodward abandoned this school of thought and instead settled on specialists in each position.

As a result, Healey went from first choice to “utility” back – the man who can cover all positions. But his second-half showing against Italy, coupled with Ireland's victory over France, meant that defeat to Scotland in their final match mattered not as England became the first winner's of the expanded Six Nations.

Updated: March 18, 2020 08:00 AM

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