Opinion: Was RWC 2015 Ireland’s Last Chance?
Once again Ireland have failed to get past the quarter-final stage of the World Cup and in doing so remain the only tier 1 nation to have never progressed in the tournaments history.
In 2007 Ireland arguably had their strongest squad in history under Eddie O’Sullivan but failed to even get out of the group stages, with rumblings of a dressing room divide. In 2011 Ireland headed into a World Cup having in 2009 claimed a Grand Slam and dominated selection on the Lions tour to South Africa. After heroics against Australia, once again Ireland choked at the quarter final stage, not showing up on the day in a poor performance against Wales that they never looked like winning.
After both tournaments, despite leading Ireland to Triple Crown glory and ushering in a new era of Irish rugby and finally bringing a Grand Slam to Ireland, both coaches Eddie O’Sullivan and Declan Kidney were soon sacrificial lambs due to Ireland’s inability to perform on the world stage.
Many have hailed Joe Schmidt has Ireland’s new messiah, just like Eddie and Declan once were. Back to back Six Nations titles and more group stages heroics in a magnificent win over France, yet here we stand once again – dumped out at the quarter final stages.
Many will go back to then injuries and suspensions but at the end of the day Ireland have prepared themselves sufficiently, they had enough quality on the pitch and they should have beaten Argentina yesterday. Before the game were Ireland using the injury excuse? Did they really think they were going to lose despite all the players missing? The answer is a resounding no.
Was yesterday Ireland’s last chance for a very long time? Personally I think it was. Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell are gone. Two of the greatest players the world has ever seen. When BOD left, O’Connell still remained and Ireland were able to continue, this time I don’t think they will be so lucky. Yes Ireland will probably be successful in the Six Nations for another few years but looking ahead to the next World Cup, will they be contenders? I don’t think so. Just look at this years squad. You’ve already lost Paul O’Connell for the next World Cup now look at the rest of the star performers, will they still be around?
- Jonny Sexton will be 34
- Heaslip will be 35
- Rory Best, 37
- Tommy Bowe, 35
- Rob Kearney, 33
These five guys plus Paul O’Connell alone are world beaters. They’ve won Heineken Cups, PRO 12’s, Grand Slams & they’ve been selected as Lions – some on multiple occasions, one being tour Captain. These players don’t come by every day. A lot of people will say we never thought we would see replacements for people like John Hayes, Stephen Ferris, David Wallace & Ronan O’Gara, yet now we have players like Cian Healy, Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Jonny Sexton to fill those boots. Looking at the current provincial set-up however do you really see players like that coming through over the next four years? Will Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht be realistic contenders in the Champions Cup? They surely won’t experience the dominance that was once there for Irish sides.
World class players need to play in world class finals. They need to play alongside world class players and most importantly they need to back it up with medals. The Irish players over the last ten or so years did – and won everything possible outside of a World Cup yet still couldn’t make it to semi-final berth. My guess is their successors won’t be any luckier in the many years to come.
I hope I’m wrong.