A history of heartbreak: Ireland’s RWC quarter-final defeats
Since the first World Cup in 1987 Ireland have suffered last-eight disappointment
Ireland fans look dejected leaving the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The dream is over. Joe Schmidt’s Ireland side were sent crashing out of the World Cup by Argentina on Sunday – the sixth time Ireland have gone out at the first knockout stage of the competition.
It’s safe to say that the last-eight stage holds somewhat of a hoodoo over Ireland.
June 7th, 1987 – Australia 33 Ireland 15
The inaugural Rugby World Cup saw Ireland pitted in Pool Two alongside Wales, Canada and Tonga. After a loss to Wales Ireland recovered with convincing wins over Canada and Tonga to set up a quarter-final clash with co-hosts Australia.
Spurred on by the home crowd at the Concorde Oval the Wallabies raced into an early 24-0 lead with one try coming from scrumhalf Brian Smith.
In an interesting twist Smith would go in fact later go on to play for Ireland at outhalf.
Late tries from Hugo MacNeill and Michael Kiernan brought Ireland back into it somewhat but Australia were always in control.
But there was a lot more to Ireland’s 1987 World Cup campaign than it looks on paper. A heart attack suffered by coach Mick Doyle at an opening gala dinner threw his side’s preparation into chaos and it was a credit to the Irish side that they even managed to get to the quarter-finals with so much going on off the pitch.
Little did we know that this was to be the start of Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final hoodoo.
October 20th, 1991 – Ireland 18 Australia 19
So near, yet so far. In just their second World Cup quarter-final appearance Ireland almost made amends for the loss to Australia four years previous, in front of a packed out Lansdowne Road.
Professionalism was only starting to creep into Irish rugby at this stage and Ciarán Fitzgerald’s team came up against an Australian side that were considered to be fitter, better drilled and all set to cruise by Ireland.
But it wasn’t so.
With five minutes left on the clock and Ireland trailing 15-12 the ball popped out to Gordon Hamilton on the wing.
The flanker stormed past Australian wing David Campese, leaving him completely for dead as he sprinted 40 yards to touch down before being caught. Ralph Keyes slotted over the conversion to give Ireland a three point lead and there was pandemonium in Lansdowne Road.
But Australia were to prove their superiority and, with it, break Irish hearts.
After winning a penalty Michael Lynagh opted to quickly tap and go, rather than going for the posts.
Flicking it to Tim Horan, who passed it on to Jason Little, the Aussies made valuable ground against an Irish defence at sixes and sevens.
Little whipped it out to David Campese who quickly off-loaded to Lynagh and the winger dived over the line to cruelly steal a famous victory from Ireland.
June 10th, 1995 – Ireland 12 France 36
In a World Cup that will always be remembered for South Africa’s win and the historic moment of Nelson Mandela handing the trophy to Francois Pienaar, Ireland suffered the first of what would be a number of World Cup losses to France.
In truth this could probably go down as the worst loss of them all.
France dominated the game from start to finish, racking up to tries by way of Emile N’tamack and current French coach Philippe Saint Andre. Thierry Lacroix added 26 points by way of eight penalties and a conversion while Ireland’s only response was four penalties from the boot of Eric Elwood.
The less said about this one the better.
November 9th, 2003 – Ireland 21 France 43
A hugely disappointing end to Ireland’s World Cup campaign but, more so, a sad end to the stellar career of Keith Wood.
The Ireland captain’s tears and embrace with good friend Fabien Galthie at full-time will be the lasting memory of this match.
To put it bluntly, Ireland never showed up at this one.
France completely dominated the first half, racing into a 27-0 lead at half-time.
Ireland did their best to prolong the career of Wood with a second half performance which saw Kevin Maggs go over the line while Brian O’Driscoll did so twice but France were never really troubled.
The French would lose out to England in the semi-finals, setting up Jonny Wilkinson to kick that drop goal.
October 8th, 2011 – Ireland 10 Wales 22
This was perhaps Ireland’s most disappointing quarter-final loss given the weight of expectation going into it.
After beating Australia and Italy to top Pool C Declan Kidney’s side went into this clash full of confidence.
But they were rocked by an early Shane Williams try which put Wales into a lead that they would not relinquish.
It was the Welsh defence who proved to be the real stars in Wellington, not allowing Ireland to muster the set-piece dominance that had proved so crucial in the pool stages.
Mike Phillips and Jonathan Davies would add further tries for Wales while Keith Earls was the only green-shirted player to go over the line.
Warren Gatland’s side advanced to the semi-finals where they were beaten 9-8 by France.
October 18th, 2015 – Ireland 20 Argentina 43
Argentina stunned Ireland with two tries in the first 10 minutes and Joe Schmidt’s side never really recovered.
Though Ireland pushed back to within three points, the Pumas recovered their poise and ran in two late scores to ease home.
Juan Imhoff sealed the rout with a swallow-dive finish, that left Ireland frustrated.
But without captain Paul O’Connell, potent flanker Peter O’Mahony and linchpin fly-half Johnny Sexton — all through injury — the Irish would always struggle. Add the banned Sean O’Brien to the missing cast-list and Ireland were unable to fend off those problems.