RWC moments: Hamilton’s try, so near and yet . . .
Ireland were minutes away from a Rugby World Cup semi-final in 1991
Gordon Hamilton celebrating try that nearly gave Ireland victory against Australia. Photograph: Peter Thursfield
A Dave Curtis pass, Jim Staples with the grubber, Jack Clarke bumps David Campese, gathers the ball and passes to Gordon Hamilton who races 40 metres and rides the tackle of Rob Egerton to score in the corner. People of a certain vintage are familiar with the specifics of the try that took Ireland to the cusp of a World Cup semi-final only to be denied by Michael Lynagh’s late score for Australia.
Ireland trailed 15-12 when Hamilton’s scored his first try for Ireland in the ninth of 10 appearances for the national side. Ralph Keyes kicked a superb conversion to make it 18-15 to the home side before a brilliant Wallabies side that would go on to win the 1991 RWC backed themselves to score a match-winning try with time almost up.
Given that Ireland haven’t managed to get past the quarter-finals in the tournament, Hamilton finds himself as a popular interviewee every four years; even if he’d prefer not to be. He admitted: “To be honest the sooner we get past the quarter-finals the better, really. Then we can forget about 1991.”
Defeat hasn’t tarnished the memory. “I reflect more on the fact that it was an opportunity to play in a World Cup, rather than an opportunity lost. We gave a great team a run for their money that day and, of course, it was a special moment for me; my first try for Ireland.
“Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. But it wasn’t complacency that lost us the game. Australia did what all great sides do: they took control of the situation. And our defending in that game was dreadful. My kids watch the game and they can’t believe how crap our defence was. Campese scored two tries earlier in the game and they are embarrassing to watch.
“But Australia were rattled by the spirit we showed, no doubt about that. Big John Eales told me personally that he stood underneath the posts when Ralph was taking the conversion and (thought), ‘I’ve left my laundry in the hotel laundry and I’m not going to get it back before I fly home’.”
Hamilton made his Ireland debut in February of that year against France and would go on to play in the remaining Five Nations matches. It wasn’t until the World Cup that he finished on a winning Irish team, successful in the games against Zimbabwe and Japan. Coincidentally he won final cap against the Wallabies, a year after scoring that famous try.
A prolapsed disc in his back ended Hamilton’s international career in his 20s but allowed him to concentrate on a successful shipping business. However, his influence on Irish rugby off the pitch after his on-field heroics continued to be hugely significant, initially as Chairman of the Professional Game Board in Ulster before taking on that role with the IRFU in January 2015, a position he would hold for almost two years before stepping down in October 2016.