Ireland hoping end quarter-final heartbreak

2015-10-15 17:12
Joe Schmidt

Cardiff - These are nervous times for Irish rugby. The prospect of facing Argentina for a place in the World Cup semi-finals has left their players and supporters jittery.

If recent form is any guide, the Irish have little to fear. Crowned champions of Europe for the past two seasons, they face a team they have beaten each of the last five times they have met.

But the weight of history is hanging heavily over the Irish, who have known only heartbreak from their previous quarter-final appearances.

Five times Ireland have played in the quarter-finals and five times they have lost. Of the eight teams left in this World Cup, they are the only country never to have made it to the semi-finals.

Ireland's players need no reminding that their country has tripped up at the same hurdle so many times before and what is at stake.

"It's a big weekend for Irish rugby," prop Nathan White said. "If we get through this one it's the furthest we've ever been so there's plenty of focus around, plenty of drive in the lads."

Ireland have been guilty of celebrating too early before. In the 1991 quarter-final against Australia at Lansdowne Road, the flanker Gordon Hamilton raced away to score a try in the corner and put his team in front with just five minutes remaining.

He was mobbed by his team-mates, then by dozens of fans who ran on to the pitch thinking their team had won. But when order was restored and the game restarted, Ireland's dreams of an upset were shattered when the Australians stole victory with a try from Michael Lynagh in the last minute.

Ireland also lost to Australia in the inaugural World Cup in 1987, beaten 33-15 in Sydney, offering a brave but ultimately futile fightback after falling down 24-0.

At the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, Ireland were thrashed 36-12 by France in Durban, contributing to their defeat with an indisciplined display that enabled the French to boot eight penalties.

In 1999, the World Cup was expanded from 16 to 20 teams, separated into five pools of four. Ireland finished runners-up in the group then conceded a late try to lose a playoff to Argentina, missing the quarter-finals for the first time.

Four years later, Ireland almost upset host nation Australia in the pool stage, losing by a solitary point. As group winners, the Wallabies advanced to play Scotland in the quarters while Ireland squared off against France, losing 43-21 after trailling 27-0 at half-time.

In 2007, Ireland missed the quarter-finals again, losing to France then Argentina in a decisive pool match.

Hopes were high the drought would end in 2011 when Ireland beat Australia to top their pool and avoid a quarter-final clash with South Africa.

Ireland were strong favourites to win their quarter-final with Wales but failed to produce their best when it mattered most and were beaten 22-10.

Ireland are favourites to beat the Pumas on Sunday but unsurprisingly, the players are keeping a lid on any celebrations.

"There is a massive amount of excitement ahead of the weekend, but we have to focus on the jobs we are going to do on the pitch. Emotions can run high, but we have to be focused on the job," Ireland forward Donnacha Ryan said.

"We are delighted to be in this position, but we are not getting too far ahead of ourselves."

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