Heartbreaking last-minute defeat to All Blacks ranks as the one that got away in 2013
Women’s Grand Slam and Leinster’s double helped make it by no means a dud year for Irish rugby
Leinster bade farewell to Joe Schmidt, Johnny Sexton and Isa Nacewa with an entertainingly won double of the Rabo Pro12 and the Amlin Challenge Cup, thereby winning their sixth major trophy in six seasons and the 12th for Irish rugby in eight seasons. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
In the minds of most Irish rugby supporters, 2013 would be instinctively deemed a non-vintage year. Certainly it was a year of missed opportunities and anti-climaxes, summed up by the Six Nations and heartbreaking defeat to New Zealand. The one that got away.
It was assuredly the match of the year, perhaps bettered globally only by New Zealand’s win over South Africa in Johannesburg. But imagine, for a moment, that Ireland had held on to beat these brilliant All Blacks for the first time in history. At a stroke, much of the pain associated with the Ireland team would have been erased. The feelgood factor would even have superseded the grave concerns as to the future of European club rugby. All would have been good with the world under Joe Schmidt.
Even so, for all its frustrations, it was by no means a dud year. Unlike 2007 and 2010, the only calendar years when Irish rugby was not adorned by at least one major trophy courtesy of its national team or provinces since 2005, there was success again, thanks to Leinster.
The province bade farewell to Schmidt, Johnny Sexton and Isa Nacewa with an entertainingly won double of the Rabo Pro12 and the Amlin Challenge Cup, thereby winning their sixth major trophy in six seasons and the 12th for Irish rugby in eight seasons.
Even that only counts Ireland’s Grand Slam of 2009 as one trophy, to augment five Heineken Cups (three by Leinster and two by Munster) along with five of the last eight league titles collectively. We have become a little spoilt.
There was also, of course, a historic Grand Slam by the Irish women’s rugby team – en route qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. A first victory in 18 attempts over England and only a second over France ensured their coronation in Milan was televised live. Irish women’s rugby had infiltrated the sporting landscape like never before.
In the sporting sentiment index, that Grand Slam ranked third in the greatest Irish sporting achievement of 2013, while they tied in the poll for team of the year with the Clare hurlers, if losing out to the latter last week in the RTÉ sports team of the year award.
Two moments from a non-vintage year for their male counterparts still finished third and fourth in the poll for the best/most memorable/iconic sporting moment of 2013, namely Rob Kearney’s try against the All Blacks and Simon Zebo’s flick with which he gathered the ball via his heel against Wales on February 2nd at the Millennium Stadium.
Zebo also scored that day from Brian O’Driscoll’s deft scoring pass in Ireland’s 30-22 win to kick off their Six Nations campaign, from where it is still hard to credit Wales would retain the championship with four wins, while Ireland would pick up only one more point – from a draw against France.