RWC 2023 Spotlight: Ireland
Seven-times quarter-finalists Ireland have consistently struggled to convert the undoubted talent at their disposal into positive Rugby World Cup outcomes.
Not even the golden generation of Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell could live up to expectations on the game’s biggest stage, while the current group of players failed to deliver an elusive semi-final place at Japan 2019 despite going into the tournament ranked number one in the world.
Ireland’s inability to make it any further than the last eight remains one of Rugby World Cup’s mysteries, as we take a look at their story.
RWC debut: 25 May, 1987 v Wales, at Athletic Park in Wellington
RWC appearances: Played 40 – Won 24 Drawn 0 Lost 16 – Points for 1,108 Points against 735 – Winning ratio 60 per cent
Most RWC appearances: Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, 17
Most RWC tries: Keith Earls, 8
Best finish: Quarter-finalists (1987, 1991, 1995, 2003, 2011, 2015, 2019)
Qualification for RWC 2023: Quarter-finalists at RWC 2019
Most memorable match: Ireland 15-6 Australia at Eden Park during RWC 2011. Jonathan Sexton and Ronan O'Gara kicked two penalties each and Sexton also landed a drop goal, but credit for Ireland’s first-ever Rugby World Cup win over the then Tri-Nations champions must also go to the Irish pack who were magnificent on the day.
Iconic moment: Gordon Hamilton’s try against Australia. Ireland suffered more quarter-final heartache in the end, but the flanker’s brilliant charge to the line gave Ireland the lead and hope that they could beat the Wallabies. Lansdowne Road erupted as he crashed over at the end of a breathless run, but eventual champions Australia kept their composure and snatched the game at the death thanks to a try from Michael Lynagh.
Low point: Ireland had won the previous five meetings with Argentina leading into their RWC 2015 quarter-final in Cardiff. But they were blown away by a rampant Los Pumas side who effectively had the game sewn up once they led 17-0 inside the first quarter. What made the final scoreline of 43-20 against them all the more surprising was that Ireland had been one of the form teams up until that point.
Iconic player: Brian O’Driscoll. Most of Brian O’Driscoll magical moments seemed to come in the Six Nations, however the centre did still manage seven tries in a joint-record 17 tournament appearances. Eight of those appearances were as captain, in 2007 and 2011.
Record-breaker: Ronan O’Gara is Ireland’s all-time leading points scorer in Rugby World Cups. The Munster legend accumulated 93 points in 14 appearances, 15 more than former World Rugby Player of the Year 2018 Johnny Sexton.
Did you know? The only forwards to score four tries in a Rugby World Cup match were both Irish. Number eight Brian Robinson achieved the feat in the 1991 match against Zimbabwe, while Keith Wood’s quartet of scores came against the USA in Dublin eight years later.
Quote: “We’re very disappointed, but at the same time you have to give credit to Japan, they attacked us minute after minute.” – Captain Rory Best summed up the mood in the Ireland camp after their shock 19-12 defeat to Japan at RWC 2019.
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