Ireland’s Rugby World Cup adventure ended in a familiar quarter-final exit.
Andy Farrell’s men went into the tournament at the top of the global rankings but were unable to break new ground by winning a knockout match.
Here, we take a closer look at Ireland’s campaign.
Ireland’s campaign was launched with routine wins from their more straightforward fixtures. They began with a bang by registering the nation’s record World Cup victory – an 82-8 thrashing of minnows Romania in Bordeaux – and backed it up with another bonus-point success, 59-16 against Tonga in Nantes. Mack Hansen’s try helped secure a statement 13-8 triumph over South Africa to give the Six Nations champions control of Pool B. Farrell’s side then returned to Paris to emphatically survive an elimination shoot-out with Scotland, prevailing 36-14. But Ireland’s remarkable 17-match winning run was cruelly halted a week later by an agonising 28-24 Stade de France loss to New Zealand as their quarter-final curse continued.
Farrell was extremely consistent with his team selections, making minimal changes and going virtually full strength in each fixture. The head coach had the luxury of limited injury issues among his first-choice starters during the tournament, albeit hooker Dan Sheehan and back-rower Jack Conan came into it recovering from foot issues, while lock James Ryan was absent for the quarter-final against the All Blacks. Whether the lack of rotation ultimately harmed Ireland’s chances is debatable. Captain Johnny Sexton, who arrived in France having not played for almost six months due to injury and suspension, was among 10 players to begin every game. More than a third of squad members – 12 – did not start a single match.
Colossal centre Bundee Aki was in the form of his life. The outstanding 33-year-old played every minute, scoring five tries in as many appearances, including one against his native New Zealand. He picked up two man-of-the-match awards and was among the tournament’s top performers. Lock Tadhg Beirne was not far behind in terms of eye-catching displays, while consistent pair Garry Ringrose and Hugo Keenan also excelled. Veteran fly-half Sexton was in record-breaking form, surpassing Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s leading points scorer, before his stellar career ended in heartbreaking fashion. Sheehan shone when available, as did wing Hansen.
Farrell’s current contract runs until 2025 and many of his dejected players spoke of elimination marking the end of an era. Test centurions Sexton and Keith Earls are heading into retirement. Plenty of others will not be around for the 2027 tournament in Australia as 17 of the 33-man squad were aged 30 or above. Yet there is plenty of reason for optimism. Leinster lock Joe McCarthy and Munster fly-half Jack Crowley form part of the exciting new generation, while established stars Sheehan, Caelan Doris and Keenan can kick on. Furthermore, Ireland’s pathway programme is impressive. Their under-20 side are back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slam champions, having also achieved the feat in 2019.