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Ireland’s rugby haters celebrated, but what a confused and joyless bunch they must be

The oval-ball haters came out when Ireland lost their World Cup quarter-final to New Zealand and found the fall bigger and better than ever before

Amid the disappointment of Ireland losing to New Zealand last Saturday in the World Cup quarter-final, it was telling to see social media do what it is best at doing – leading the cheer with a gleeful dose of reverse snobbery.

Taking immense pleasure in watching an Irish rugby team lose is a phenomenon that has been around for some time, although it still looks and feels just as distressed as it always has done.

Occasionally rugby does not help itself. Emphasising that it is not soccer and that it (like soccer) has laws not rules are just two pompous positions that the sport insists on adopting.

But calling out rugby for aspects that might have people holding their noses seems qualitatively different from holding the entire sport in contempt.


The exultation and exuberance that greeted a defeat to New Zealand that had Ireland packing their bags in Paris was something to behold. There were elements of highlighting the school you went to, the fact that mainly former British colonies play the sport and stuff about Mack Hansen, Jamison Gibson-Park and Bundee Aki not being Irish anyway – the blood-and-soil keyboard ideologues being such a busy bunch.

Then there are the “sporting reasons only” haters. International rugby isn’t competitive. The same teams keep winning the competitions and the smaller nations like Portugal, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Romania are just thrown in as fodder for the stronger nations to beat to a pulp and feel superior about doing so.

It sure is a strange kind of mindset that equally dislikes Keith Earls and Ronan Kelleher, although one was sent to a fee-paying school in Dublin and the other was brought up in a working-class Limerick neighbourhood.

That the two have dedicated a large chunk of their lives to training, playing and putting their bodies on the line for Ireland didn’t override the outpouring of animosity on social media when New Zealand’s Sam Whitelock finally turned the ball over three minutes into overtime last weekend.

Speaking on the radio, former Irish outhalf Ronan O’Gara touched on the issue, but suggested that any antipathy might have dissipated somewhat with the current crop.

“You can see the way some people don’t like the Irish rugby team ... what Ireland are doing at the minute is very appealing to the normal Joe Soap, because they can see a team that is genuine, normal, that represents the working-class people of Ireland as opposed to just the elite private schools,” he said.

O’Gara highlighted that you can dislike a team for whatever reason you want. Many people would disagree with his point and leave it at that. Others would disagree with his point and hate the sport because of it.

Anyone can pick a characteristic, decide they hate it and them decide to hate a team that bears that same trait. Taking carte blanche to separate sports according to their traits, then deciding to love or hate them because of those traits is the perfect self-fulfilling prophecy.

Being the number one team in the world for the last number of months and arriving at the World Cup as one of the favourites to win made Ireland an even bigger target than previously. When they fell, the fall was from a greater height and the sound hitting the ground was louder.

To the rugby haters, who couldn’t stomach Ireland’s pool progress or the praise being heaped on captain Johnny Sexton, the tumble from pool winners to being out of the tournament was almost like God putting a thumb on the scales.

It is open to question whether it is a lonely place delighting in an Irish rugby team getting beaten, a team that is more diverse now than it has ever been and managed by a north of England man who used to play rugby league for Wigan, a coach whose strength, pride and values all come directly from growing up and playing with working-class people.

Hate is something that is not only hard to shake off but intensifies over time. Taking pleasure from a national rugby team being beaten seems such a joyless bit of craic.