Ghosts of 2007 won't hamper current Rugby World Cup squad

Ghosts of 2007 won't hamper current Rugby World Cup squad
Shane Horgan at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Shane Horgan was always more than just a rugby player.

A Meath minor footballer and a juvenile All-Ireland cross country champion, he also happens to be a qualified lawyer who has lectured on sports alternative dispute resolution and he has acted as a business culture and values advisor to leading brands.

Add in his directorship with two media companies, his presence on our TV screens and in print as a rugby pundit and his availability as a keynote speaker and this is a guy with a healthy collection of eclectic interests and abilities.

To which we can now add Greek mythology.

This is not the sort of tidbit you expect to learn when you talk to someone about Ireland's World Cup chances and whether or not the current squad might feel weighed down by the inability of previous teams to break the glass ceiling that is a quarter-final.

“Is it the ship of Theseus?” Horgan asked when this was put to him before the tournament. “You know, if you change all the constituent parts of something, is there some sort of memory in it? If you change every plank in a boat, but it’s still called the same boat, is there something residual there?”

That's one way to put it.

Ireland's inability to scale any higher than the last eight every four years needs little further exposition. It's a plot so old and so annoying that it colours everything Irish teams do across the entirety of every four-year cycle.

Beat the All Blacks? Only a friendly. Do it in a tournament.

Claim a Grand Slam? Beat everyone at the World Cup.

First win in South Africa? Beat them in Japan.

Naysayers may quibble with the worth of such achievements but they can't help but carry an intrinsic value. Ireland's form has not been comforting through 2019 but they approach Saturday's do-or-die game against New Zealand knowing they have done it before.

“I think about our situation in 2007, which is our gift to Irish rugby: keep your head down lads,” said Horgan. “We didn’t have the history of success that these guys do. Leinster hadn’t achieved anything at that point, or nothing really significant. Ireland, we had Triple Crowns but no Grand Slam. No win against New Zealand, no significant wins in the southern hemisphere.

“All the building blocks for success, Ireland have all of those now. So that alleviates some of those issues. And when you talk about doing some of the psychological analysis or preparation that they will do, that will be a big part of that, because there is nothing about kidding themselves there. You can go, ‘actually, this is tangible’.”

Ronan O'Gara can't accept that this Irish squad will be hampered by failures in the past.

For him, each generation's issues are their own, unique moments made up of a million different decisions and actions that will never combine again. O'Gara played in three World Cups and each one was unsuccessful for very different reasons.

The 2003 tournament in Australia was his first and he sums that Ireland team up as one that simply did not have the mindset needed for such a big tournament at that time. His last was 2011 when, he believes, Ireland underestimated Wales after beating Australia in the pool stages.

That one still rankles, as does 2007 when they got it wrong before it even began.

Ireland cared too much and they trained too much, Simple as. The intensity in that warm-up phase was off the charts and, when the gun was put to their heads on game day in France, they just didn't have another gear to reach the pitch required.

There were whispers of a 2007 repeat in recent weeks. Careless whispers. Jonathan Sexton noted as much at the start of this week. He couldn't fathom how a side that kept Russia blank while playing well below its best could be compared with one that was lucky to beat Namibia.

“There will be pressure moments and that's what it is going to come down to,” said O'Gara. “In all sports, we have got much better at that mental side in this country. We were always capable of one-offs in World Cups but that doesn't matter.

“You have to have a really high, consistent level of performance. You don't have to win the World Cup sometimes. What you don't want to do is go out and lose it. You don't have to pull a rabbit out of the hat.”

South Africa have already seen how quickly a game can be lost to the All Blacks. The Springboks were little short of magnificent for long spells in their Pool B meeting in Yokohama last month only for the game to slip through their fingers inside three minutes.

Tries from George Bridge and Scott Barrett at the start of the second quarter turned that game on its head and Joe Schmidt spoke yesterday about how quickly the Kiwis but then Ireland hardly needed the reminder.

George Bridge scores against the Springboks in the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup.
George Bridge scores against the Springboks in the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup.

The All Blacks were trailing Ireland 30-8 in Chicago three years ago with just a half-hour to go before two converted tries inside five minutes from TJ Perenara and Ben Smith changed the mood music. And there were 81 minutes on the clock in 2013 when Ryan Crotty broke their hearts.

These boys can strike at any time from anywhere.

Whatever way we look at this, an Ireland win at the weekend would be huge: a third win in four attempts against the game's best side and a first ever shot at a World Cup semi-final. It would represent an enormous high, an adrenaline rush of seismic proportions.

Backing it up a week later would not be easy although Brian O'Driscoll was consistent throughout the build-up, even when Ireland were still bruised by the thumping loss to England in Twickenham, that this team would not settle for anything less than ultimate victory in Japan.

“The excitement of playing in a World Cup semi-final would be enough to get a team back up,” he said in early September when South Africa were deemed to be the likely opponents this week. “Genuinely, I wasn’t lying when I said the team would not take a semi-final if you offered it to them.

“They just wouldn’t because they feel they are capable of winning it. If you offered them the possibility of losing in a quarter-final or winning it they’d take that (gamble). They wouldn’t hedge their bets. They want to win the World Cup and feel they are capable of winning it.”

Break the glass ceiling today and anything will be possible.

Ireland in a good place but All Blacks built for knockout rugby

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