State of the Nation: Ireland

Date published: November 5 2015

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As we do at the end of a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Ireland.

From ecstasy to agony; that’s pretty much the story of Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign as the wheels came off heading into the week of the quarter-finals due to a combination of injuries to key players and the suspension of Sean O’Brien. Cue Argentina capitalising and how.

Losing the talismanic figures of Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony and Jonathan Sexton was a major setback to their hopes of progressing any further in the competition while Tommy Bowe was also floored by injury during the Pumas loss, which summed up how quickly hopes can end.

Ireland would finish with a solid four wins from four record in the pool stage but bowed out at the earliest hurdle in the knockout games.

There was so much promise before a ball had been kicked at the Rugby World Cup as back-to-back Six Nations titles set up Joe Schmidt’s men for what was set to be a significant tilt at the Webb Ellis trophy.

Factor in being on the more favourable side of the draw and with a not so difficult pool of France, Italy, Canada and Romania and let’s just say that Irish fans and many neutrals backed them to go a long way.

One surprise in squad selection saw Andrew Trimble overlooked but one of those picked ahead of the Ulsterman, Luke Fitzgerald, certainly impressed when given an opportunity. His try and assist in that quarter-final defeat were two bright moments on an otherwise dismal day.

But there is no escaping that Ireland were beaten up physically in that loss as they lost countless collisions, with alarm bells sounding after just three minutes as from that front-foot ball Santiago Cordero rounded Dave Kearney with ease to set up Matías Moroni’s try. From then on Ireland were up against it as Pumas tails were up, which led to an ultimately decisive cushion on the scoreboard being built.

On a personal note, Ian Madigan stepped up well in the deciding pool game against France while Robbie Henshaw continued his upward curve, becoming a vital part of Ireland’s future at just 22 years of age. Losing Jared Payne alongside him was another blow added to Irish woes.

Keith Earls and Rob Kearney were their top try-scorers on three but there is not getting away from the fact it was a forgetful World Cup for Schmidt’s men, as they crashed out at the quarter-final stage for a second successive time. This comes after they failed to reach the knockouts in 2007 in what’s becoming a worrying trend for them at World Cups, as they’ve still to reach the last four of the competition.

Looking ahead there are reasons for optimism for the Irish, who appear to have uncovered O’Connell’s natural successor in Iain Henderson, even if the talismanic lock will be tough to replace.

There are areas of concern particularly in the front row where Rory Best and Mike Ross will have to be replaced sooner rather than later, while experienced campaigners Jamie Heaslip, Sexton and Rob Kearney might no longer be first choice in four years’ time.

Still, it’s a promising group overall, with the right mix of youth and experience, as well as the guiding hand of Schmidt, to be very much contenders for a third straight title.

By Adam Kyriacou

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