Rugby

There Is Something Fundamentally Wrong In The Psyche Of The Irish Rugby Team

There Is Something Fundamentally Wrong In The Psyche Of The Irish Rugby Team

It was slightly surreal to watch the post-match reaction to Ireland vs New Zealand on RTÉ and Eir and ITV and watch ex-Ireland players and ex-Ireland managers try to explain how Ireland find themselves at this familiar juncture: back in rugby's gutter after another quarterfinal mugging. All the men talking were men who'd lost quarterfinals with Ireland in the past, who know what's like to travel to rugby's big dance with the country full of wild hope only to succumb to that old familiar fate. None of the pundits had any real wisdom why Ireland fail so consistently at the Rugby World Cup.

Ireland's World Cup is over. It's ended like all the other ones this century. Abjectly. While there's a lot that will be written about what went wrong for Joe Schmidt and Ireland over the last year, we'd also like to ask a more fundamental question: why are Ireland so terrible, tournament after tournament, at the Rugby World Cup? Yes, New Zealand were ferocious today but this performance by Ireland today, given that this was quarterfinal that Ireland has spent four years building up to, was unforgivable. The kicks that didn't reach touch. The handling errors. The mental mistakes. It's been bad news for Ireland since England visited the Aviva in February. We've been consistently poor for 9 months.

What's truly agonising is not just Ireland's ability to bottom out at every World Cup - although that's agonising in its own right - it's Ireland's ability to consistently peak exactly one year too early. Go back through the last four World Cups. In the 18 months before a World Cup, Ireland will consistently come good. By the time the World Cup comes around, Ireland either fall out of form or are found out.

2006 November Internationals: beat Australia and South Africa
2007 Six Nations: A Vincent Clerc try away from a Grand Slam
2007 World Cup: lose to France, lose to Argentina, barely beat Georgia and Namibia

2009 Six Nations: Grand Slam
2010 Six Nations: won 3, lost 2
2011 Six Nations: won 3, lost 2
2011 World Cup: lose in the quarterfinals to Wales

2014 Six Nations: Winner
2015 Six Nations: Winners
2015 World Cup: Quarterfinal loss

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2018 Six Nations: Grand Slam
2018 November internationals: Beat the All Blacks and Argentina plus everyone else
2019 Six Nations: Woeful
2019 World Cup: Even more woefulwent

We all remember the ridiculous hype train around Ireland's 2007 World Cup team - but the hype was merited. We were irrepressible in the 2006 November internationals and should have won the Grand Slam in 2007 were it not for that Vincent Clerc try. Ireland travelled to New Zealand in 2011 with less form, and weirdly, that quarterfinal loss to Wales really feels like the one that got away. Ireland entered the 2015 World Cup on the back of successive Six Nations wins. The 2015 quarterfinal is seen by many as a write-off because of all the injuries in the France game but Ireland were badly found out that day against Argentina.

And then, 2019. No one will be more aware of Ireland's quarterfinal hex than Joe Schmidt, but yet it's Ireland performance over the past 18 months that's most frustrating. We were the best team in the world in 2018. In 2019 we have been Scotland-level average. While we are sure there are very specific reasons for why Ireland has performed so badly at this World Cup - picking out of form players, failing to develop new tactics -there has to be something fundamentally wrong with Ireland's psychological approach to these tournaments if we are again exiting stage right. Different coaches have tried and different coaches have failed. Something deeply embedded in the culture of Irish rugby is preventing Ireland from performing to its best on the most important stage.

And so a new four-year World Cup cycle begins, in a state of absolute dread.

Donny Mahoney

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