Bluffer’s Guide to Ireland going out of the Rugby World Cup

How to talk the talk following Ireland’s defeat to New Zealand – if you can stomach it . . .

Never mind Athenry. Low lie the fields of just about everywhere you can think of this morning. Ireland’s defeat to New Zealand in Paris last night put an abrupt full-stop to everything. For us, the Rugby World Cup is over, kaput, finito. It is an ex-parrot.

So what are we going to talk about now? Rugby, that’s what. Yes, while it may feel like the door has closed on that particular adventure, it’s well you know that for the rest of today at least – and most likely beyond – people will continue talking rugby at you. Scorn not their simplicity. These are delicate times and we must be understanding. Society demands it.

Fear not though, we’re here to help. Stuck at a family lunch today and feeling like you’d need subtitles to keep up with the chat? Here’s a few crib notes to get you through.

1 We Lost

Everything else is sort of immaterial. Ireland got beaten in Paris last night and ain’t that a kick in the head? We can break it down into all manner of reasons and excuses. Ronan Kelleher would have had a late try only for a brilliant tackle by Jordi Barrett that held him up over the try-line. Ireland kept giving away scrum penalties that seemed harsh calls by the referee. It wasn’t fair that we had to play New Zealand in the first place, given that England only have to play Fiji today to get through. (Or, if you like, that Fiji only have to play England).

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All of which is true and fair and doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Ireland are out. They didn’t have a lead at any stage in the match. They lost their 17-game winning streak. It all tastes like ashes.

Do Say: “There’s no shame in losing to a world-class New Zealand team.”

Don’t Say: “Of course, this means England stayed in the World Cup longer than we did.”

2 It Happened Again

This is the hardest part to deal with. There have been 10 Rugby World Cups in history. This is the eighth time Ireland have made it as far as the quarter-final. It is also the eighth time they have gone out in the quarter-final. Given that there are really only nine or 10 serious rugby playing nations on the planet, the fact that Ireland can’t ever get past the last eight in the World Cup is, on the whole, not great.

Here’s a quirky statistic for you to throw around in polite company. The last time Ireland were ahead at any stage of a World Cup quarter-final was 1991 against Australia. And that lasted a whole three minutes before Michael Lynagh’s try knocked us out at the death. For whatever reason, we’re just not good at getting past this particular hurdle.

Do Say: “The draw was to blame – two great teams like this shouldn’t have met in the quarter-final.”

Don’t Say: “Next time, can we just have semi-finals after the pool stage?”

3 Johnny Sexton

By now, the whole world has seen Luca Sexton walking around the Stade De France afterwards with tears streaming down his face, looking up at his father and saying, “You’re still the best, Dad.” So look, life goes on. We all know that.

But this one hurt. Last night was Sexton’s last game of rugby. He came along in 2009, fought all fights, won all wars except this one. He morphed over the years from an angry young man in a hurry to the greying, half-smiling, still half-cranky national institution that believed right to the end that Ireland could win a World Cup. His tears at the end were beautifully, achingly real.

As for where Ireland go now, that’s all up in the air. Despite Sexton looking tired towards the end last night, Jack Crowley didn’t get on the pitch. The young Munster out-half wasn’t trusted to come on and dig Ireland out of the hole they were in. Right to the end, it shows how reliant Ireland were on Sexton.

Do Say: “An all-time legend of Irish sport.”

Don’t say: “Can Luca play yet?”

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times