It seems to be a law of nature that, regardless of how well the Irish national rugby team performs throughout the season, they will not make it through the quarter finals of the World Cup. Since the inception of the World Cup in 1987, Ireland have yet to break through the glass ceiling of the quarter-finals. This has left rugby fans across the country wondering if the World Cup is within our grasp.
Ireland’s hopes for a first time World Cup do not seem to be unfounded. They are the number one ranked national team in the world, followed by South Africa in second place, France in third and New Zealand in fourth. This is without mentioning that Ireland is coming off a Grand Slam victory in this year’s Six Nations, following a historical first series victory against New Zealand in 2022.
Those who were not painfully aware of Ireland’s history with the World Cup may be led to think that Ireland is surely the favourite for the upcoming tournament. However, it seems that with each World Cup year comes talk and rumours of this finally being the year that Ireland is going to bring it home, only for those hopes to be dashed either in the quarter finals or group stages. In 2019, Ireland’s shock loss to hosts Japan led them to a quarter final against New Zealand. 2015 saw Ireland’s pyrrhic victory against France.
However, Ireland, unlike other national teams, do not particularly prime themselves for the World Cup. Whereas teams like France, New Zealand, and South Africa train and compete with the aim of peaking for the World Cup, Ireland has a tendency to spread its focus evenly throughout the four year cycle. Ireland is not content to sacrifice a Six Nations or a World Cup. While not essentially a mistake or defect, it is a strategic decision by the IRFU that can go some way toward explaining Ireland’s failures in previous years.
“It’s possible that this focus on every tournament might be the downfall of the Irish rugby team”
It’s possible that this focus on every tournament might be the downfall of the Irish rugby team. However, if Ireland’s recent success in the past two years is to be any indication, there shouldn’t be concern regarding Ireland’s ability to top pool B (featuring Ireland, South Africa, Scotland, Tonga and Romania). Certainly the greatest challenge Ireland will be facing is South Africa. Currently ranked just below Ireland at number two in the world, as well as boasting an unrivalled forward unit, South Africa are a threat. However, Ireland defeated South Africa in their most recent encounter. Scotland, while not on the same level as the Springboks, will not make life easy for Andy Farrell’s men. The Scots will be aiming to get out of pool B, and they will definitely see beating Ireland as their easiest way out. The rest of the teams in the pool are tier 2 rugby union nations who, barring a 2019 style upset, should not generate significant trouble for Ireland in the pool stage.
What is likely to be Ireland’s greatest challenge in the World Cup will be the quarter final, likely against France or New Zealand. South Africa will likely qualify from the pool B and if Ireland wants to take the title home they may have to confront the number two ranked in the world more than once. Ireland could also come up against an off-form English side, who’s recent loss to Fiji wouldn’t suggest that they are on top form. However, the World Cup is a different kettle of fish and England may pose a threat.
It is clear to see that the answer to the question of “can Ireland win the World Cup?” is a resounding yes. However, if the history of the Irish team has taught us anything, what the Irish team can do and will do are different things. This ongoing tournament is possibly Ireland’s most promising opportunity to win the World Cup, but Ireland will need to break the quarter final “spell” that has been held over us for so long. As any Mayo footballer knows, the mental challenge can be as great as the physical challenge.
Saturday, 16th of September
Ireland v Tonga
Saturday, 23rd of September
Ireland v South Africa
Saturday 7th of October
Ireland v Scotland