Japan the latest in Ireland’s history of losing to Rugby World Cup hosts
Going back to 1991 Ireland have now lost to the home nation four times in World Cups
Ireland players walk off the pitch following defeat in the Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool A game against Japan. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Japan’s stunning defeat of Ireland continued a curse of sorts at World Cups for Irish sides going back to 1991. The Japanese win in Shizuoka was the fourth time Ireland have played against and lost to the host nation at the pool stages of the competition. Ireland have now never beaten the hosts in the group phase when drawn against them.
The RWC 1991 tournament spread across England, Wales and Scotland with Ireland drawn in the pool against the Scots in Murrayfield. It was a match that will forever be remembered for flanker Finlay Calder’s high hit on Jim Staples, which turned the game around. The Irish full-back claimed a mark as Scotland winger Tony Stanger arrived ahead of Calder’s late forearm to the head, leaving Staples flat out on his back.
Scotland won the game and progressed to a quarter-final win over Western Samoa (28-6) and a semi-final meeting with England. They fell three points short 9-6 in Edinburgh in the only time Scotland has qualified for the final four. And Ireland, who also advanced, rose in hope with Gordon Hamilton’s try in Dublin and then fell to Michael Lynagh’s late, late show in the quarter-final.
Four years later in Australia a report in The Guardian observed “there are more slices on display than at an all-you-can-eat pizza restaurant as both kickers make a nervy start.” In a hugely tense match, there was also two tries, several missed kicks and a couple of yellow cards to Shane Horgan and Mat Rogers.
A young Brian O’Driscoll scored a try and a drop goal but in the narrow game it wasn’t to fall in Ireland’s favour. Ireland would finish second in the pool to the hosts before being beaten by France in the quarter-final.
In 2007 France were again at the start of the Irish problems after some weeks in their base in Bordeaux, where the team were unconvincing against some of the minnows in the pool, notably Georgia. Ireland escaped from the Stade Chaban-Delmas with a narrow 14-10 victory over the Georgians, keeping alive their hopes of progressing to the quarter-finals. Tries from current captain Rory Best and full back Girvan Dempsey saw to that. But Ireland failed though to get the bonus point.
On to Paris and France showed too much power and panache in a convincing 25-3 pool win, the hosts again taking it out on their Six Nations cousins. Again Ireland were simply unable to rise to the energy and power of the home side spurred on by the Parisian crowd. Because of what came next the French defeat hurt Ireland more than ever. In the final pool match Argentina beat Ireland 30-15 to wrap up first place in Pool D at Parc des Princes in Paris.
1991: Pool 2 (Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Zimbabwe)
Hosts: England, Wales and Scotland.
Scotland 24 Ireland 15
Until this year’s meeting Scotland had only played Ireland once in a Rugby World Cup. That was at Murrayfield in the pool stages of the 1991 tournament hosted by England, Scotland and Wales. Murrayfield was full with 60,000 fans as Scotland started the Irish curse at the pool stage winning 24-15. There were Scotland tries from Graham Shiel and Gary Armstrong and kicks from the legendary Gavin Hastings and Craig Chalmers with Irish outhalf Ralph Keyes kicking Ireland’s points. It was Ireland’s only pool loss before they went on to lose to Australia by a point in Lansdowne Road in the quarterfinal with Gordon Hamilton’s try now part of rugby folklore and Michael Lynagh’s last gasp score now entrenched in Ireland’s gloomy World Cup past.
2003: Group A (Australia, Ireland, Argentina, Namibia, Ireland)
Australia 17 Ireland 16
Ireland had opened with three wins against Romania, Namibia and Argentina by one point. But when the crunch match arrived against the hosts and the World Champions in the Docklands Stadium, Melbourne, Australia held off a brave fight back to earn a quarter-final clash with Scotland. It was an energy-sapping clash with the Wallabies leading 14-6 at one stage only to be pegged back by a resilient Irish side. Ireland then put the host nation under intense pressure in the second half but they couldn’t find the score that would have taken them in front for the first time in the match. Defeat for the Eddie O’Sullivan-coached Irish team, where kicking from Ronan O’Gara and a try from Brian O’Driscoll wasn’t enough, meant Ireland would go on to face an in-form France in the last eight.
2007: Pool D (France, Ireland, Argentina, Georgia, Namibia)
France 25 Ireland 3
France, with two tries to Ireland’s none, had too much power and panache for a disjointed Irish side that rarely threatened the home defence. France wing Vincent Clerc broke the try-less deadlock in the 59th minute when he stormed on to a beautifully weighted Frederic Michalak kick and raced along the right to dive over in the corner and make it 20-3. Scrum half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, who kicked four penalties in the first half and one in the second, could not convert from wide but the damage was done. Ireland’s cause was not helped four minutes later when second row Paul O’Connell was sent to the sin bin for off-side play following a lineout. France capitalised on the extra man when Clerc rose high to an attacking kick and was strong enough to bump off the defence to barge over in the corner.