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A bitter end to the glorious Schmidt years, Irish rugby must look to the GAA

The Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the Rugby World Cup with The Irish Times sports team

The end of an era. The curtain came crashing down on the Joe Schmdit years on Saturday, as Ireland's Rugby World Cup dreams were ripped apart by the All Blacks in Tokyo. The defending champions ran out 46-14 winners, consigning Ireland to their highest ever defeat at the tournament, on a miserable evening for Irish rugby. From Tokyo, Gerry Thornley writes: "After the unprecedented highs of 2018, this was no way for Rory Best's career to finish or indeed Joe Schmidt's. It was a bleak day indeed for all the squad. But this was another bad performance by a good team." Ireland's quarter-final defeat means they are still to reach the semis in nine attempts, with Schmidt admitting afterwards his side had become consumed by their goal of making it into the last four. "Maybe though, if there's one lesson to be learned, it is to not make it into such a defining target. To cool the jets a little," writes Gerry Thornley. "For Saturday's was a particularly angst-ridden, error-strewn performance. Even allowing for the unrelenting pressure applied by the All Blacks' defence, six handling errors in the first half-hour and 17 turnovers in total confirms as much." Meanwhile in his column this morning Liam Toland has reflected on a night where Ireland were unable to place any doubt into the minds of the All Blacks, and where they were simply miles off the pace: "Ireland have been out of form for months and on Saturday looked like a team out of form for months, where timing and execution was a huge struggle."

Schmidt now steps down as Ireland coach, after six golden years at the helm. And Gerry Thornley writes that while Saturday's defeat to New Zealand does tarnish his reign, it shouldn't destroy his legacy: "Schmidt's Ireland helped Irish fans to celebrate, and to dream again, on many occasions. There may have been more talented Irish teams, but none were as successful as this one. That's why the sense of anti-climax about 2019 and specifically this World Cup is all the sharper." So what next for Ireland? In order to consistently challenge at rugby's top table, and to rank as a heavyweight rather than a middleweight, Irish rugby must widen its player pool and look to poach some of the GAA's top young talent - according to Gavin Cummiskey. He writes: "What is more apparent than ever before is if the IRFU ever hope to live with the All Blacks of this sport then they must rip a leaf out of the AFL book of recruitment and enhance the head-hunting of the GAA's underage talent. . . Not many areas in Ireland can remain untouched by the only professional team sport that allows its players to live here on a very good salary."

Elsewhere the line-up for the World Cup semi-finals was completed yesterday, with Wales and South Africa both progressing into the last four. Warren Gatland's Grand Slam winners were given the fright of their lives by France, with Ross Moriarty's late try seeing them edge Les Bleus 20-19 in Oita, after Sébastien Vahaamahina had been shown a red card for an elbow on Aaron Wainwright. Later in the day South Africa brutally ended Japan's World Cup odyssey, the Springboks showing their awesome power to shut down the Brave Blossoms and run out 26-3 winners. Wales and South Africa will meet on Sunday in Yokohama (kick-off 9am), a day after England face the All Blacks at the same venue (kick-off 9am).

Away from Japan and a much improved Manchester United were denied victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford yesterday by a late Adam Lallana equaliser, the midfielder cancelling out Marcus Rashford's first-half opener five minutes from time. There's one Premier League fixture tonight, with Arsenal travelling to play Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.


And Cuala are Dublin senior hurling champions for a fourth time in five years, after they saw off a stern St Brigid's challenge to run out 1-18 to 1-14 winners at Parnell Park yesterday. In Cork, Imokilly made it three SHC titles on the bounce with a 2-17 to 1-16 win over Glen Rovers at Páirc Uí Rínn.

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is a former sports journalist with The Irish Times