RWC 15: The 10 least memorable Irish games at World Cups
We’ve had the highs but John O’Sullivan remembers the lows too - from 1987 to 2011
An Ireland fan looks dejected during the IRB RWC Quarter Final match between Ireland and Wales at Wellington Regional Stadium in 2011. Photograph: Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images
- 1- 1987 Ireland 6 Wales 13 - Athletic Park, Wellington
It was two years since Ireland had won the Triple Crown under Mick Doyle, playing a super brand of attacking rugby but the majority of that cast- list remained and a 15-11 victory over Wales at the Arms Park in the Five Nations of that year would have fuelled an expectation of a winning start to the global tournament. However, the heart attack Doyle suffered at an opening gala dinner ensured a disjointed preparation that was manifest in a really poor performance. Wales scored the only try of the match through Mark Ring, Paul Thorburn kicked a penalty and current BBC rugby analyst Jonathan Davies dropped a couple of goals. Ireland’s response was a brace of penalties from the boot of Michael Kiernan.
- 2 - 1987 Australia 33 Ireland 15 - Concorde Oval, Sydney
It may seem a little strange for this match to be included in the list given the problems Ireland experienced off the pitch but it was a starting point in a series of World Cup defeats by Australia who turned out to be something of a bête noir. The Aussies led 24-0, one of their tries coming from a replacement scrumhalf Brian Smith – he came on after five minutes to replace Nick Farr Jones – who later went on to play for Ireland at outhalf. Ireland scored two tries in the last 11 minutes of the match through Hugo MacNeill and Michael Kiernan with the latter also converting both, having earlier kicked a penalty. The Aussies went on to lose a memorable semi-final to France.
- 3 - 1991 Scotland 24 Ireland 15 - Murrayfield
Ireland’s poor run at Murrayfield during the Five Nations Championship – they hadn’t won in Edinburgh since the Triple Crown season of 1985, a run that continued in the Scottish capital until the Six Nations in 2003 – included this World Cup clash that effectively decided who would top the pool. The match will probably be best remembered for Scottish flanker Finlay Calder’s head-high tackle on Irish fullback Jim Staples. Ireland’s points came from four penalties and a drop goal by Ralph Keyes. As a result of losing, Ireland faced Australia in the now famous quarter-final at Lansdowne Road, losing 19-18. Scotland beat Western Samoa before losing narrowly to England (9-6) in a Murrayfield semi-final.
- 4 - 1995 Ireland 12 France 36 - King’s Park, Durban
This was the first time that Ireland met France at the World Cup and they have yet to beat them at the tournament, something they’ll be hoping to change when the sides meet next month. In fact the Irish have never got close to toppling the French and the final scoreline would prove representative of the sort of thumping that Irish teams normally received. In this game, France scored two tries through Emile N’tamack and current French coach Philippe Saint Andre, while Thierry Lacroix kicked a whopping eight penalties and a conversion. Ireland’s meagre response was four penalties from the boot of Eric Elwood.
- 5 - 1999 Ireland 3 Australia 23 - Lansdowne Road
The most painful memories of this match belong to Trevor Brennan, who had his arms pinned by two Australian players and was on the end of several haymakers from Toutai Kefu and had to be replaced soon after. He said of the incident: “The bandages over my eight stitches had come down over my eyes and my arms were held by two Australian players. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t move my arms as Kefu went hell for leather on my face.” Brennan received a two-week suspension for the incident, which was pretty harsh, but the silver lining was that he missed the Lens match. Australia kept Ireland at arms length with ease limiting them to just a single penalty from David Humphreys.
- 6 - 1999 Ireland 24 Argentina 28 - Stade Felix Bollaert, Lens
In a poll of the worst moments in Ireland’s Rugby World Cup history this match might have finished top for a long time, although one or two subsequent low points might displace it. A new format for the tournament introduced quarter-final playoff matches – the five runners-up plus the best third-placed team. Ireland were chosen to meet Argentina, who finished third in their pool, only on points’ difference. David Humphreys and his Argentine counterpart Gonzalo Quesada each kicked seven penalties and a drop goal, with the decisive score and the only try coming from Diego Albanese. The Pumas went on to be hammered by France at Lansdowne Road.
- 7 - 2003 Ireland 21 France 43 - Telstra Dome, Melbourne
There is an iconic post-match picture featuring an embrace, one of warmth and mutual respect, between Ireland captain Keith Wood and his French counterpart and good friend Fabien Galthie. Both had announced their intention to retire after the tournament. Wood’s tears told the story, recalling the exchange, he admitted: “I just said, ‘we have had good days together, and bad days together’. And he (Galthie) said: ‘it was either you or me retiring today’.” Ireland were hammered, 27-0 down at half-time. Three second-half tries, from Kevin Maggs and two from O’Driscoll, gave the scoreboard a more flattering look.
- 8 - 2007 France 25 Ireland 3 - Stade de France
Ireland were completely out of sorts again on a miserable night in the French capital. Having scraped past Georgia 14-10, and been blessed to do so, they had also been unconvincing in a victory over Namibia (32-17). The Irish side were completely eclipsed in every facet of the game. The set-piece proved to be a nightmare, while discipline and basic handling skills also let Ireland down. The visitors trailed 12-3 at the break and following a penalty from Jean Baptiste Elissalde, Vincent Clerc claimed the first of his two tries on the night. France might have only pulled away in the final quarter but they were clearly superior physically and tactically in every department.
- 9 - 2007 Ireland 15 Argentina 30 - Parc des Princes
Eddie O’Sullivan’s side not only had to beat Argentina, but required a four-try bonus point, if they were going to edge past their rivals and escape the pool. It rarely looked likely. Ireland trailed 18-10 at the interval, their try brilliantly finished by captain Brian O’Driscoll but despite, scoring a second soon after the interval through Geordan Murphy, ill-discipline and Juan Martin Hernandez’s three drop goals allowed the Pumas to pull away to a comfortable win, bringing an end to Ireland’s miserable World Cup. Argentina went on to finish third after losing a semi-final to South Africa. They hammered hosts France, beating them for the second time in the tournament in the bronze medal match.
- 10 - 2011 Ireland 10 Wales 22 - Wellington
Ireland went into the game full of confidence as pool winners having beaten Australia and Italy, but it was Wales who enjoyed the perfect start to the game with a try from Shane Williams. The diminutive winger had a part in another seminal moment, somehow managing to hold up Sean O’Brien over the line. Ireland could not get the set-piece dominance of previous matches against a hard-working Welsh defence. Wales crossed for a further two tries, from Mike Phillips and Jonathan Davies, to one from Keith Earls. Ireland hopes of a first semi-final were dashed while Wales would suffer heartbreak of their own at the penultimate stage of the tournament losing 9-8 to France.