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The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: Japan loss adds to Ireland's list of World Cup woes


Rob Kearney and his team-mates show their disappointment after losing to Argentina in the 2015 World Cup quarter final in Cardiff. Photo: Sportsfile

Rob Kearney and his team-mates show their disappointment after losing to Argentina in the 2015 World Cup quarter final in Cardiff. Photo: Sportsfile

Rob Kearney and his team-mates show their disappointment after losing to Argentina in the 2015 World Cup quarter final in Cardiff. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland's sorry record of never beating the World Cup hosts continued today with a 19-12 defeat against Japan. Here is our previous list of woes.


May 25, 1987

When Ireland arrived in New Zealand they were treated to the sight of New Zealand captain Andy Dalton smiling at them, beamed out from a television commercial where he was promoting farm machinery. This was a whole different world to the fundamental amateur life as practised in our corner of Europe.

Fast forward to the World Cup itself and in the first game they were running out, hopelessly match unfit, against Wales. A cock-up over the anthem had them singing along to the Rose of Tralee.

When the match kicked off Ireland had a gale force wind at their backs in the first half. They couldn't use it.

In any case they ran out of gas before Wales had got into their stride in the second half. That was the start of Ireland and the World Cup. Various shades of that pattern have emerged every four years since then. Different cities, similar stories.


October 28, 1991

In the list of World Cup tries that stand out for lots of people, Gordon Hamilton's touchdown against Australia is still up there. His journey into the Havelock Square corner felt like it took an age to complete, and with every step the enormity of it presented itself.

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The Lansdowne Roar was a bit of a thing over the years, and while there was probably a factory full of asbestos in the roof of the west stand alone, the acoustics were savage.

Three events registered on our Richter scale. In no particular order: Jason McAteer's goal against Holland in 2001; Mick Kiernan's Triple Crown clinching drop goal against England in 1985; and Hamilton's try.

Presented with the task of closing the game out in the last few minutes for a place in the semi-final, Ireland couldn't do it. The Aussies kept their heads, and won the game. It was vintage moral victory stuff. Hopeless.


June 10, 1995

Moving day can be distilled to two memories: Brendan Mullin's forlorn chase after Emile Ntamack as the French wing cruised into the corner to hustle Ireland towards the exit; and Simon Geoghegan showing up for some media duty in awkward circumstances. Geoghegan was always a more interesting character so we'll go back to that.

The World Cup media centre in King's Park was located outside the stadium. Geoghegan, barefoot, hobbled across the road, still in his gear, to fulfil his duties for the Sunday Tribune. A colourful character, he was phlegmatic about it all. A year earlier, en route home from Ireland's tour of Australia, we asked him if he ever thought he'd be part of an overseas tour with an Ireland side physically conditioned to win. He laughed. “No mate, not in my lifetime!”

The deal was that he would train his butt off in London, where he was based, and then team up with his Ireland colleagues, most of whom were not in the same ballpark as him. It was accepted. And when he saw the botch Ireland made of dealing with traveling from altitude down to sea level — ignoring the professional advice they had hired — he knew what was coming. More of the same. France ran over them.


October 10, 1999

The Wallabies were in our pool so that was the runners-up spot nailed down for Ireland. They were based out in Portmarnock, where their team hotel had cleared an adjoining field they owned and developed a decent enough pitch.

No such thing as security back then, you could walk in and watch whatever session you wanted. They were different to everyone else. Under head coach Rod Macqueen they had hired a defence coach from rugby league by the name of John Muggleton. Muggles.

He had them smashing seven shades out of each other, running aggressive blocking lines ahead of the ball before it was anywhere near commonplace.

They were utterly cynical in how they kept teams out of the game.

Watching Ireland against them that day was pitiful.

Referee Clayton Thomas hadn't a breeze what was going on, and to cap it off allowed them pull a fast one for uncontested scrums claiming prop Dan Crowley, a prop forward, wouldn't be able to scrummage in the middle of the front row. Ireland manager Donal Lenihan was having a conniption on the sideline.


October 1, 2007

Ireland's hotel in La Défense is buzzing with folks checking out and hopping into taxis for the airport. First, though, Eddie O'Sullivan has to sign off what surely was the most wretched of all World Cups for Ireland. The campaign had been handicapped by a botched warm-up programme — the South Africans had the hump that Ireland didn't vote for them in the World Cup bid for 2011 and reversed from a fixture — during which Brian O'Driscoll's tournament had looked over after the Battle of Bayonne. It only got worse from there.

Fittingly then, the final function should also have been a disaster. At the post-match press conference a comedian took up a seat among the hacks and proceeded to engage O'Sullivan as part of a sketch. Honestly.

How the PR man didn't box the head off him will probably haunt him. The morning after the defeat by France, which pretty much sealed Ireland's fate, there had been an impromptu press conference in the same hotel. Off the cuff is never good in that setting for access and egress for the folks at the top table is an issue.

This little setpiece saw O'Sullivan literally with his back to a wall, surrounded by cameras and microphones, with nowhere to go. You couldn't have made it up. Cue the funny man on the final day. “Taxi!”


October 18, 2015

When you've been considering lately the most commonly asked question about this Ireland side (‘Can they beat South Africa or New Zealand in the quarter-final of the World Cup'?) you should refer back to the Millennium Stadium four years ago. Seeing France off at the tail-end of the pool programme had taken a massive effort. It was up there with the win over Australia in Auckland in 2011 as one of the best ever Irish performances in a World Cup. The cost was horrendous though: Johnny Sexton, Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony all carted off, and Sean O'Brien suspended.

In contrast, Argentina were in very good nick. They had the luxury of resting virtually all of their stars from starting in the romp against Namibia the previous week, the same day Ireland had all hands on deck against France. Moreover that group, who three years earlier had been given the keys to the Super Rugby locker room, were reaching their peak playing rugby that was a perfect blend between downright nasty on the one hand, and very nice to watch on the other. The aggregate was way too much for Ireland.

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