How does Ireland break this World Cup quarter-final hoodoo?
This was meant to be the time when Ireland not only ended their quarter-final hoodoo at the Rugby World Cup but also went on to win the tournament in France. Having won 17 Tests in a row leading up to the last-eight clash with New Zealand, there wasn’t a team in better form or with more momentum; the Webb Ellis Cup was there for the taking.
A familiar story unfolds in Paris
At least, it was until the All Blacks edged out one of the all-time great World Cup matches by a margin of 28-24.
Instead, it was a result that left Ian Foster’s team on the brink of World Cup glory and not Andy Farrell’s. Anyone betting on Rugby World Cup outright markets will now see that the All Blacks have been given a short price of 11/10 to go all the way.
While the outright rugby odds make South Africa the overall favourites at 10/11, there was a distinct feeling that the world had just watched the unofficial final at the conclusion of Ireland’s quarter-final showdown with New Zealand at the Stade de France.
These two behemoths of world rugby put everything on the line and gave fans around the globe a match that will never fade from memory but the cruelty of knockout competition is that only one nation can advance.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 14, 2023
Sadly for Farrell’s men, New Zealand’s advancement in the World Cup came at the cost of Ireland who would have felt confident of making history beforehand.
Alas, the Cranberries’; Zombie did not ring out into the Paris night as millions had hoped it would and instead, the lasting sound of the evening was the rumble of Ryanair flights taking off from Charles de Gaulle Aiport that were destined for Ireland. The dream was over for another four years.
What now for Irish rugby? Can this quarter-final curse at the World Cup ever be broken?
Mind over matter
One of Brian O’Driscoll’s final comments on the night of the quarter-final while doing punditry work for ITV was that if Johnny Sexton and this golden generation couldn’t get to a semi-final, then who could? It’s a sobering thought and one that rings true as this class of 2023 has – by some distance – been Ireland’s best at a World Cup.
O’Driscoll’s wider point was that this is no longer a question of ability and has now become a psychological barrier. This seemingly insurmountable mental mountain does present a problem for Irish rugby given that when the list of past quarter-final failures becomes all-consuming, paralysing fear usually takes over with victory in sight.
🗣”Knowing him it will be the one that will really hurt him”
— ITV Rugby (@ITVRugby) October 14, 2023
This was evident when the normally unflappable Sexton missed a crucial late penalty against the All Blacks from a distance that he would normally be able to convert from his sleep. The impossible task? The good news is that thanks to the Irish Rugby Football Union’s formidable work at grassroots level, the conveyor belt of talent in the country will keep turning Rather, the bigger task going forward will be to convince the next generation of immensely talented players that they can overcome a hurdle that no one before them was able to.