Rugby World Cup: Ireland struggled against underdogs in 2007. They need to beat Romania soundly

Ireland may not have been spectacular during their warm-up matches but the aim of their preparatory programme was to help them reach their best during the tournament for once: the moment of truth is nigh

Ireland’s fate at the 2023 World Cup probably won’t be decided in their opening two games against Romania today and Tonga next Saturday. There are bigger fish lurking in the pool of sharks. Then again, they could go a long way toward determining this Irish team’s destiny at France 2023, certainly if the 2007 experience is anything to go by.

Back then, when the World Cup was last held (mostly) in France, a misfiring, badly prepared Irish team struggled to withstand a second-half comeback by Namibia after leading 27-3 with a bonus point early in the second-half to eventually win 32-17.

Six nights later, again in the Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux, Ireland faced a largely second-string Georgian side that had been beaten 33-3 by Argentina four nights previously.

The Georgian winger Giorgi Shkinin intercepted Peter Stringer’s pass for a long-range 46th-minute try that put them 10-7 ahead. The underdogs were inspired and adopted even more loudly by the French crowd. Despite a 56th-minute Girvan Dempsey try, the worst defeat in Irish rugby history was only averted thanks to Denis Leamy holding up a Georgian player over the line three minutes from time after a skin-curdling TMO review.


Notions of a bonus point had long since evaporated. Seven points out of eight wasn’t a disaster but with Argentina having beaten France on opening night in the Stade de France, Ireland already looked doomed.

On leaving the ground, a mate’s text simply read: “Ireland have just gone out of the World Cup.”

Sure enough, after Namibia were eviscerated 87-10 by France, Les Bleus, even when afflicted with nerves, eased past Ireland by 25-3.

Argentina, who had beaten Namibia 63-3, inflicted the last rites on Ireland’s doomed campaign with a 30-15 win in the Parc des Princes, as tens of thousands of Irish fans made a forlorn and unrewarding trip.

After undistinguished warm-up displays in losing to Scotland, luckily beating Italy in Belfast and just about surviving the ill-advised Battle of Bayonne physically intact, Ireland’s campaign hadn’t been a surprise. Only Brian O’Driscoll, straining every sinew, had performed to his capabilities.

Even Paul O’Connell came up short, and, reflecting on his four World Cups this week, he said: “One of my experiences would have been in 2007 being over-trained a little bit and probably got the hotel wrong, got the food wrong a little bit and fuelling is such a big part of preparation.

“Your temptation as a player is to train as hard as you can but you need to leave something in the tank a little bit as well. And your temptation as a coach is the same,” said O’Connell, in highlighting this as a strength of both Andy Farrell and fitness coach Jason Cowman.

O’Connell maintained that “preseason has been brilliant”, albeit the team have not scaled the heights of that magnificent win at home to France last February since then, particularly in the three warm-up games, which culminated in that twitchy 17-13 win over Samoa a fortnight ago in Bayonne.

The Samoa match had particularly uncanny and uncomfortable echoes of that night in Bordeaux against Georgia. A long-range intercept try. The home crowd adopting the underdogs. Wayne Barnes being a law unto himself.

The Irish scrum was also marched backwards by Samoa and the lineout coughed up five of its own throws. Yet Farrell said he was “delighted to get the win”, adding: “It was a proper Test match, wasn’t it? I said it would be good if it rained and we find out about ourselves.

“They’re a good side, Samoa. They’re gonna shock a few teams. It isn’t just the traditional stuff that they’re good at. You saw the big carries at the end, they’re powerful. But they’re fit, they have a great set-piece. A lot of good things are happening for them – their coaching staff have done a fantastic job.

“So in the end, I was pleased with our mentality, as in: no panic, finding a way, fixed our set-piece at half time. Subs came on added hugely to our physicality and three tries to one – Test matches are tough to win in conditions like that and we managed to find a way, so I’m pleased really.”

One wonders if Farrell was doing his darndest not to let any negative thoughts enter the squad’s psyche, especially given Ireland’s World Cup baggage.

However, there are, of course, also striking differences between now and then. This trio of warm-up victories have made it 25 wins in 27 games, including a series win in New Zealand, a Grand Slam and an Irish record of 13 successive victories.

They’re aware of their underwhelming warm-up form without being unnerved by it, and they appreciate the need to start putting this to rights on Saturday.

As Hugo Keenan put it: “I definitely think we haven’t shown our best so far over the summer. We want to put in a performance we know we have in ourselves. If we can lay down a statement doing that, that would be great.”

This was a sentiment echoed by Caelan Doris. There’s more of a sense that things will click into place. That once the lineout starts functioning, so too will the attack,

Peter O’Mahony, who doesn’t really do bull, also had an encouraging and interesting take on Ireland’s underwhelming warm-up form.

“We’ve missed a few beats certainly over the last few weeks but I think a lot of it has been good for us.

“Not that we needed a reality check, but it’s just been a reminder, which is great before a World Cup, that teams are going to be at their very, very best, and particularly now that we are world number one we’ve a big target on our back.

“Every team you play is going to be at their very best to try and knock you over and I think it was a good reminder for us over the last few weeks of the different types of games and the way to approach them, that we need to be all over things from minute one to minute 80.

“We took some great lessons from it and I think the guys put in some huge performances. There were parts of our game that we were really impressed with and happy with, that we need to keep building on, but we found some areas that ‘these were really good 18 months ago lads but we need to get back to them a little bit and have a little review on them,’ which we’ve done over the last few days and weeks.

“So, I think that’s exactly what we wanted out of those games to prepare us for these next few weeks and beyond, and I think it [the warm-up schedule] went the way we thought it was going to go.”

We shall see. These opening two games will tell a tale. For those who ignore the mistakes of history are, of course, apt to repeat them.