Enjoy Ireland’s winning streak while it lasts
Long runs of consecutive wins have historically been hard to earn
They are grand times indeed when Ireland can beat France by seven points, extend a winning streak to nine games and still not everybody is entirely happy.
In a World Cup year, to aim for perfection is noble indeed but for the hurlers on the ditch it’s worth putting this streak into historical context. The bottom line? Long winning streaks don’t come along for Ireland too often.
It’s easy to get caught up in streaks. Fifty-six is one of sport’s magic numbers, forever associated with baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. His 56 straight games with at least one base hit finally ended as the Yankee Clipper hit into a double play in Cleveland on July 17th, 1941. It’s the most famous streak in American sports.
The NBA’s LA Lakers won 33 in a row in the early 1970s.
The NFL record is 21, set by the New England Patriots over the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Australia’s cricketers own the record for most consecutive Test wins at 16, achieved twice (1999-2001 and 2005-2008).
Seventeen consecutive wins has been achieved three times: first by New Zealand between 1965 and 1969, then by South Africa (1997-1998) and most recently by New Zealand again, a run ended by a 12-12 draw in Sydney with Australia in August 2014.
At the lower rungs of the international game Cypriots will point to their 24 consecutive wins from 2008 until a defeat last November by Latvia, just one week before Cyprus would be awarded associate member status by World Rugby. At the top level of the international game, however, 17 is rugby’s magic number.
Ireland’s longest win streak is 10 matches (the same as France, Australia and Argentina), achieved between 2002 and 2003 under coach Eddie O’Sullivan.
Over those 10 consecutive wins under O’Sullivan, 35 players were capped with 27 named in starting lineups. Since the current winning run began against Italy in last year’s Six Nations, Joe Schmidt has used 51 players, including 40 starters.
The increase perhaps is a reflection of a summer tour to Argentina, the 2009 introduction of an eighth bench slot and the increased attrition rate of today’s international game.
It was fitting that Brian O’Driscoll’s Aviva Stadium send-off should begin another long winning run. The great centre had started every game of the 2002-03 streak, along with Anthony Foley, Kevin Maggs, Malcolm O’Kelly, John Hayes and Keith Gleeson.
With O’Driscoll’s retirement, the only member of the current Test squad to be part of both winning streaks is Gordon D’Arcy who made a brief 25-minute appearance in November 2002, replacing O’Driscoll in the 55th minute of a 64-17 home win against Fiji.
While it was O’Driscoll’s second match as Ireland captain, it was just D’Arcy’s second cap, fully three years after his debut at 19 years of age at the 1999 World Cup.
In 2015 things are generally rosy in the Irish international garden. The team are the defending Six Nations champions, they beat both South Africa and Australia in the autumn and beating England would equal the Irish record of 10 consecutive Test wins.
Adding Welsh and Scottish scalps would, Grand Slam aside, put Ireland on 12 consecutive wins, something that among tier one teams since 1900 only New Zealand, South Africa and England have ever achieved.
It’s almost 17 years since the last time Ireland lost five consecutive Tests; only the French (1982) have gone longer without such a run of losses.
But every winning run has one thing in common. It must end.
On March 30th, 2003, at the old Lansdowne Road Ireland had won their 10 previous games and there was a Grand Slam on the line.
A day that began badly when President Mary McAleese was forced to walk on the grass rather than the red carpet did not improve. Ireland would lose by 36 points to England, with the Grand Slam and 10-win streak torn asunder.
On Sunday week, Irish fans will hope that this current winning run will avoid such an ugly, shuddering halt.