As they kick off another Six Nations, many Irish fans will be looking ahead to the World Cup, hoping their team can claim the Web Ellis trophy for the first time in the tournament’s history.
They have every reason to be optimistic too, Ireland is currently the number-one ranked team in the world, following an impressive 2022 which saw them defeat the All Blacks for the first time on New Zealand soil on their way to a historic test victory.
Other highlights in 2022 included the Triple Crown, as Ireland narrowly missed out on Six Nations glory to France. The tournament saw Ireland claim its biggest victory over England at Twickenham since 1964 (15-32).
In fact, Ireland haven’t enjoyed this sort of form since 2019, when they were also the number one ranked team going into a World Cup.
Ireland look like the real deal. After coming out on top during an intense heavyweight battle with reigning champions South Africa, they have taken control of Pool B.
With a mouth-watering clash with Scotland still to come, nothing is guaranteed for Ireland but fans can now begin to dream of what might be possible heading into the knockout phase.
Should they see off their remaining challenges and finish top of their pool, a quarter final clash with the All Blacks looks to be on the cards barring any major shocks to shake up the order in Pool A.
It’s a tough route ahead, but Ireland have proven their ability to mix it with the world’s best under Andy Farrell and will be well placed to enact revenge on New Zealand in a rematch of the same quarter final from four years ago in Japan.
Any Ireland fans who dare to dream of what might lie in wait further in the competition, it is likely that one of Wales or Argentina could be the ones standing between them and a first ever World Cup final should they make the semi-finals.
Back in 2018, Ireland were crowned Six Nations champions with a Grand Slam, defeating both England and France away from home along the way. Later that year, as they did in 2022, the Irish defeated the All Blacks, although this time back home in Dublin. With a series victory over The Wallabies in Australia sandwiched in the middle, all of this was enough to cement Ireland’s place as the number-one ranked team going into the 2019 World Cup. The tournament itself, however, did not end in glory.
Despite a rousing victory over Scotland in the opening game of the tournament, Ireland succumbed to a shock defeat against Japan, which ultimately handed them a tougher draw in the knockouts.
The result was a 46-14 hammering to eventual champions New Zealand, as Ireland crashed out at the quarter-final stage. By the tournament’s conclusion, Ireland had fallen to 5th in the world rankings.
Since the tournament’s inception in 1987, Ireland has never progressed beyond the quarter-final stage – it’s a classic sporting curse, equal to England and penalty shootouts or Tim Henman and Wimbledon semi-finals.
The closest Ireland has come to a semi-final was back in 2015, when they lost to Argentina at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. Ireland had defeated France in the last pool game, avoiding a quarter-final clash with New Zealand in the process. A match against underdogs Argentina was seen as Ireland’s best-ever opportunity to break the quarter-final curse, but, after coming back from a 17-point deficit to come within 3 points of The Pumas, Ireland eventually lost 43–20.
Ok, so history isn’t necessarily on Ireland’s side but the form guide certainly is. If the Irish can overcome the mental barrier posed by the quarter-final curse, there’s no reason why they can’t go all the way.
Another point to bear in mind is that Ireland’s team is largely made up of Leinster players, arguably the most in-from club rugby team in the world at the moment. Leinster are undefeated in the URC standings and are rightly favourites for the Champions Cup, Europe’s premier club rugby competition.
Once more, Leinster’s crop of Irish players are all entering their prime going into the World Cup, including Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and World Player of the Year Josh van der Flier.
Given Ireland’s ranking, you might think they would have a favourable draw going into the World Cup. However, the draw was made in 2020, the first year of a World Cup cycle. As a result, some of the rankings have changed but the draw has remained the same.
By March 2022, the top-four ranked teams were South Africa, Six Nations champions France, the All Blacks and Ireland. Despite this, all teams will be in the same half of the draw at the 2023 World Cup, meaning two of them will not make it beyond the… you guessed it – quarter-finals.
Ireland will play South Africa in Pool B and, assuming the top four ranked teams all finish 1st or 2nd in their respective pools, then Ireland must beat hosts France or reigning champions New Zealand to break their quarter-final curse.
Still, the law of averages suggests the curse must be broken at some point, and why not 2023? The Irish proved last year that they are a match for anyone on their day, and the longer the curse goes on the more triumphant that first quarter-final victory will be. You would be a fool to miss it.
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