Ireland’s World Cup Journey

Our Munster Haka admins are excited about Ireland’s chances at the 2015 Rugby World Cup and why not? We’ve got the best coach in the world, the legendary Paul O’Connell as captain and overall a world class team. Ireland are back to back Six Nations champions, a bit of luck along the way at the World Cup and there is no reason why we can’t win the third competition of Joe Schmidt’s era.

Glory

World Cup 2015 Champions – Ireland’s Story

Good Draw for Ireland

July 30th 2015 – Squad Selection


Joe Schmidt’s 31-man squad: 

Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, James Cronin; Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Richardt Strauss; Mike Ross, Marty Moore, Stephen Archer; Devin Toner, Iain Henderson, Paul O’Connell (C), Donnacha Ryan; Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Chris Henry, Tommy O’DonnellJamie Heaslip

Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan, Kieran Marmion; Johnny Sexton, Paddy Jackson, Ian Madigan; Robbie Henshaw; Jared Payne, Keith Earls; Simon Zebo, Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe; Rob Kearney

Many were excited to see Marmion, Earls and Fitzgerald in the squad but a considerable amount of quality players were excused, highlighting Ireland’s strength in dept.

Team of unselected (some due to injury) players: Kilcoyne, Casey, Furlong, Foley, McCarthy, Murphy, Ruddock, Copeland, Boss, Keatley, D’Arcy, Marshall, Gilroy, Trimble, Jones


Ireland V Canada: Millennium Stadium, 19th September 2015


FT: Ireland 58 – 5 Canada 

McGrath, Best (Try 4′), Moore, Toner, O’Connell, Henderson, Henry, Heaslip (Try 18′), Marmion (Try 30′), Madigan, Henshaw (Try 50′), Earls (Try 12′, 68′), Fitzgerald, Bowe (Try 70′), Jones. 

#MunsterHakaMOTM Keith Earls 

Canadians could not contain Keith Earls

A Keith Earls inspired Ireland ran all over a dis-jointed Canada team to kick-start their World Cup campaign in Cardiff.

Following early scores from the Man of the Match himself, Rory Best and Jamie Heaslip, it looked like the game could go into triple digit territory but a break-away try from Canada and Vancouver scumhalf Sean White left Ireland red in the face.

Matters got worse when Luke Fitzgerald was withdrawn with a calf tear moments later, with Simon Zebo coming on.

Luckily, Ian Madigan replied when he collected his own chip through to get Joe Schmidt’s side back on track. From there, Robbie Henshaw, Earls and Tommy Bowe put the nail in the Canadian coffin.

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Ireland V Romania: Wembley Stadium, 27th September 2015


Local spectators saw some of the finest football they will ever witness as Ireland’s classy backs showed their best abilities with 12 tries courtesy of an astounding 80% of possession restored by the pack. Note: Luke Fitzgerald was replaced in the squad by Dave Kearney as he required surgery.

FT: Ireland 88-0 Romania 

Cronin (Try 66′), Stauss (Try 14′), Ross , Henderson (Try 71′), O’Connell, O’Mahony (Try 20′), Henry (Try 3′), O’Brien (Try 42′, 71′), Reddan (Try 62′), Jackson (Try 52′), Henshaw (Try 59′), Payne, Zebo (Try 10′), Bowe (Try 78′), R. Kearney. 

#MunsterHakaMOTM: Robbie Henshaw

Robbie ran riot against the Romanians

It was relentless from Ireland who put Romania to the sword. 12 tries in total meant that there were happy Irish fans going home and not just because of the result but because of the back-plays, set piece moves and individual skill displayed throughout. Robbie Henshaw’s creativity was the stand out factor from the match as people began to wonder who would be the best partner for him when the big games arrive… Fitzgerald, Madigan, Earls or Payne.

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One Romanian fan should have kept his mask on.

Ireland V Italy: Olympic Park, 4th October 2015


Ireland went into their toughest game so far against the Italians. Joe Schmidt selected what was perhaps his strongest squad in hope of recording a valuable victory. The Irish lads would go on to do just that as four tries, all converted by Sexton proved to be enough to stay level with France in the group.

FT: Ireland 31-11 Italy

Healy (Try 32′), Best, Ross , Toner, O’Connell, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip, Murray (Try 62′), Sexton, Henshaw (Try 59′), Payne, Earls (Try 15′), Bowe, R. Kearney. 

#MunsterHakaMOTM Conor Murray 

After a shaky start which saw Italy lead 6-0. However, Keith Earls whom was a surprise selection on the wing, dove over in the corner to settle the nerves. 7-6.

Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton were excellent throughout and when a Murray box kick was gathered by Tommy Bowe in attacking territory after a half an hour, Ireland were well on the front-foot.

The pack carried hard, phase after phase. Peter O’Mahony eventually showed his aggression to break the defense and reach the 5 metre line. O’Connell then came close, before Cian Healy bounced off Luke McLean to score an important try.

The impressive Sergio Parisse would get an additional 5 points on the board for Italy but tries from Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw in quick concession after the break put the game to bed.


Ireland V France: Millennium Stadium, 11th October 2015


The game that everyone had been waiting for finally arrived. Ireland would have to provide a huge performance to defeat the French. Joe Schmidt made two changes for the game: Donnacha Ryan in for the sub-standard Devin Toner, and Simon Zebo in for Keith Earls. In explanation of the swaps, Schmidt insisted that Ryan would bring the grit required to get the better of a French pack while he recognized Simon Zebo as a better option than Earls to survive the aerial onslaught that France would enforce.

FT: Ireland 18-14 France

Healy, Best, Ross , Ryan, O’Connell, O’Mahony (79′), O’Brien, Heaslip, Murray, Sexton, Henshaw, Payne, Zebo, Bowe (25′), R. Kearney. 

#MunsterHakaMOTM Peter O’Mahony

Irish fans packed into the Millennium Stadium to feed their eyes on an excellent game of rugby. The French came right out of the traps to take a surprise lead when Yoann Huget stepped inside Simon Zebo to score the game’s first try.

20 minutes later, a well worked move saw Johnny Sexton throw a skip pass to Tommy Bowe out on the touchline. The Monaghan man slid in to get Ireland’s first points on the board. The conversion was missed but Sexton added a penalty to correct his previous error soon after.

Halftime and it was 8-7 to Ireland. Despite Ireland’s great efforts, France were still well in the game and were looking dangerous. Reflecting on the first forty, Tommy Bowe, Rory Best and Sean O’Brien had memorable performances but Peter O’Mahony was simply on fire, possessed.

The second half commenced and a Wesley Fofana intercept had the French in wonderland as they lead 14-8 on 50 minutes. A game against New Zealand rather than Argentina would face Ireland if the game finished this way. Camille Lopez took control for the French as Ireland became under increasing pressure in the last quarter.

65 minutes in and Johnny Sexton got a penalty opportunity 45 yards out in a central position and nailed it. 14-11 now. Then, ten minutes later, Pascal Pape infringed at the ruck, gifting Ireland an opportunity to kick for touch. Sexton got within ten yards of the line.

Substitute Iain Henderson took down the ball and Ireland set their maul. The pack drove 5 yards closer before being pulled down. Sean Cronin battered the last line of defense, then Healy, then O’Brien. This was nail-biting stuff. Murray whipped one out to Sexton, the nation gasped as Sexton fumbled the ball but kept control. The Leinster outhalf shipped it to Robbie Henshaw who straightened the line in front of the posts. Off the ruck. Murray popped it up to O’Mahony at an angle. The Corkman handed-off Thierry Dousatoir, dove for the try line and the crowd erupted. Unbelievable! Johnny Sexton added the extra two. Leaving the final score as Ireland 18-14 France. On to the quarter finals!


Ireland V Argentina, Twickenham Stadium, 18th October 2015


Ireland went into this game very confidentially but knew that the Argentinians would be physical and a tough nut to crack. It was the World Cup quarter final, they had to be at their best. Donnacha Ryan and Rob Kearney took knocks against France and were unavailable, otherwise Ireland had a clean bill of health.

FT: Ireland 30-7 Argentina 

Healy, Best, Ross , Henderson (30′), O’Connell, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip, Murray, Sexton, Henshaw, Payne, Earls, Bowe, Zebo (6′,51′). 

#MunsterHakaMOTM Simon Zebo

Two tries for classy Zebo

Twickenham was a sea of green as Johnny Sexton kicked off. Joe Schmidt was written all of over the game as Ireland kicked the ball on numerous occasions and showcased back moves that caused serious damage for the Argentinian side.

After just six minutes, Johnny Sexton took the ball on the halfway line, stepped inside and offloaded for the onrushing Simon Zebo. Zebo sprinted through the gap, stepped the fullback and touched down. The place was rocking!

Argentina had a spell inside Ireland’s half straight after in response but failed to come away with anything as Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw hit everything that moved and a few minutes later Ireland themselves actually added an extra 3 points.

On the 30 minute mark, Iain Henderson who was preferred to Devin Toner, crashed over in the corner for Ireland’s second. On the stroke of halftime however, Agustin Creevy fell over the line for the opposition to leave it at 17-7.

The second half commenced and Johnny Sexton stepped up to take another penalty to add his tally of 10 points. On the 51st minute of play, Ireland would spot an overlap on the left wing. Jared Payne broke the first tackles as he crossed the 22 and passed to Keith Earls. Earls flung the ball back inside to Simon Zebo in space, and he gracefully danced through for Ireland’s third try.

The game began to die out as Ireland held on to a 27-7 lead. However, Johnny Sexton ensured that Ireland would reach the semi-finals on a high note and struck a dropgoal to cap off his flawless kicking performance.


Ireland V Australia, Twickenham, 25th October 2015


Ireland have never reached this stage of the competition before, it is needless to say that they were inspired and ready to beat up the Australians once again. Ireland had more or less a full deck to choose from after Rob Kearney and Donnacha Ryan recharged their batteries after the French game. Ireland were fortunate to find that Australia stars James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper were unavailable as they had gone missing and were last seen in Newcastle feasting on kebabs while consuming a large amount of alcohol. David Pocock meanwhile, was out injured after being attacked by a bull as he tried to hunt British animals.

FT: Ireland 15-10 Australia 

Healy, Best (19′), Ross, Ryan, O’Connell, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip, Murray, Sexton, Henshaw, Payne (68′), Zebo, Bowe, Kearney 

#MunsterHakaMOTM Rory Best 

There was a symphony of passion and pride as the Irish supporters not only orchestrated high decibels of noise but inspiration for their country to do themselves proud. Early on Johnny Sexton and Bernard Foley exchanged penalties to calm their respective nerves.

After good pressure from the Irish pack lead by Paul O’Connell, Australia conceded a penalty which Sexton deemed just outside his range. It was kicked into the corner for a lineout, the crowd climbed to their feet. Best spun one in which was taken by Paul O’Connell. The maul set as the props and backrow forwards locked in, O’Connell and Ryan steered their men with manic aggression while Best controlled the ball at the tail. Yellow shirts began to fall out of the way as the Irish wave flooded through the barriers of the Aussies defense. The crowd made their support heard… Best fell over the line! 10-3. Chaos.

In the second half, the Australians responded. The forwards trucked it into the men in green and eventually flyhalf Foley saw a bit of space on the far side as Ireland began to lose defensive shape. The Waratah floated a cross-field kick into the arms the ‘Honey Badger’ Nick Cummins who slid down to get his ‘bitta meat’. Foley converted and it was 10-10.

Ireland frantically ran hard at the Australians for the next 20 minutes but the Wallabies worked ever so hard to keep out the attack. As the Irish approached the final 10 minutes however, they found themselves in scoring territory. Simon Zebo cut in off his wing, swiveled his hips and popped the ball up to Jared Payne who ran to the right of fullback Israel Folau and crossed the whitewash! A scream from the crowd and a fist pump from the hero of the moment himself. Sexton couldn’t convert unfortunately and an Aussie assault was to follow.

Slipper, Horwill, Hooper, Palu, the Australians hammered at Ireland from 20 metres out. Tevita Kuridrani, the centre, was looking dangerous and eventually he was the man to break the defense. Ireland V New Zealand-like scenes as he took the ball outside Sexton and sprinted for the posts without anyone in front of him. Suddenly, he tripped as Robbie Henshaw burst a gut to try and prevent the heartbreak, but the Australian was over the line. Referee Nigel Owens went upstairs to confirm the try.

The scenes are repeated on the big screen, Kuridrani looks to be away but Henshaw sprints and chops him at the ankles with an extended right arm. The ball spills forward… The stadium erupts with protest! “Does he have control of the ball?” asks Owens. After a long 5 seconds of silence the Welshman’s arm sweeps across his body, “no try!”. With a hoot of a whistle the population of Ireland loses it’s mind. The sensational sense of elation is indescribable as Irish mouths hang open, unable to contemplate what they have just witnessed.

 “The best day in the history of Irish Rugby?”

“Hopefully not”, said Paul O’Connell in the post-match interview.


Ireland V New Zealand, Twickenham Stadium, 31st October 2015


Ireland have reached the World Cup Final, would you believe that? The lads have outdone themselves and will now get the opportunity to win the sport’s ultimate prize. The big question is however: can they do what they’ve never done before and defeat the All Blacks when it matters most?

It would be Paul O’Connell’s final game for his country. The inspirational character’s retirement was forthcoming and this simply had to be the perfect finale. His teammates would do anything to ensure that he got the send off that he deserves. The only problem was, New Zealand would also have their own extra bit of inspiration as Richie McCaw, their own captain would also hang up his boots after the game.

All of the build-up circulated around those two men, but it would ultimately be a team performance that would decide the champion.

FT: Ireland 21-19 New Zealand 

Healy, Best, Ross, Ryan, O’Connell (70′), O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip, Murray, Sexton, Henshaw, Payne, Zebo, Bowe (18′, 77′), Kearney 

#MunsterHakaMOTM Paul O’Connell

It was four o’clock on a London Saturday afternoon, the stage was set as Paul O’Connell jogged onto the field in his green shirt for the final time. Fireworks blasted into the sky as the two teams entered the fray to an unforgettable roar. The sort of pictures that were witnessed simply don’t go away too easily.

Johnathan Sexton stood up at the halfway line as the teams waited for Nigel Owens and his team of officials to prepare themselves. Sexton took a glance to his left to see the fiery expressions of the pumped up forwards. The faces of Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony showed just how much this thing meant to them. The whistle was blown, Sexton kicked, the pack chased and straight from the off Sean O’Brien smashed Richie McCaw into next week. The ball was spilled forward by the Crusaders legend and Owens called for a scrum. Paul O’Connell slapped the Tullow Tank on the back as O’Mahony gave the All Blacks the eyes. It was all there for the taking. The fans, coaching staff, everybody watching at home and  most importantly, the players realized that in unison.

The two packs set in and drove against each other with mighty aggression. Mike Ross popped up on the far side however, and Beauden Barrett had a chance to kick for touch. The Hurricanes youngster reached no less than the 5 metre mark. The All Black pack jogged up to the point of attack.

Dane Coles threw the ball in, Brodie Retallick caught it high in the sky and Aaron Smith gathered the knock down. Barrett stepped inside Sexton, offloaded to Ma’a Nonu and Henshaw just about managed to stop the 105 KG centre before the try line. The stadium rose to it’s feet, Jerome Kaino took a pick and go but was cut down by Jamie Heaslip. Suddenly, the fans in attendance gasped as Kieran Read picked up the ball. The number eight dropped his weight on to the Irish pillar beside the goal posts and grounded it to the delight of his teammates. Beaude converted, 7-0 within ten minutes.

Ireland kicked off again with eager anticipation to get back into New Zeland territory. Unfortunately, Murray took out Read in the air and a penalty was awarded to the 2011 champions. There was a strong sense of frustration and fear among Irish supporters as Barrett would take a shot from behind the halfway at the posts. To their disgust, an extra three points were gifted to the All Blacks.

At 10-0, Ireland finally realized that they had to launch an attack of their own. For all of the individual passion and aggression, they had nothing to show for any of it. Fortunately, there was still plenty of time to respond and the boys in green would get their ball rolling on the eighteenth minute of play.

Ireland found themselves in an attacking position when Simon Zebo leaped to claim an excellently judged Conor Murray box-kick. The Munster winger presented the ball back to his forwards, just outside the 22 on the left wing. One by one they carried, Heaslip then O’Brien, then Healy. Eventually they crossed the 22 metre line and New Zealand were as stretched as they’d ever been. Murray decided that it was time to go wide. He passed to Sexton who drifted into the 10/12 channel, skipped Henshaw with a snappy pass to Jared Payne. Payne took the ball well and found himself between Conrad Smith and Julian Savea. He threw a dummy pass to Tommy Bowe and skipped past Smith, Bowe sprinted on the outside of Savea. Payne floated an impressive pass into the arms of his Ulster teammate and Bowe was away! A good finish in the corner gave Ireland hope. Sexton would convert to make it 10-7.

The exciting start to the game had everyone gripped. Ireland had responded very well to their early errors but New Zealand were on the attack again. We were now into the second quarter and some creative All Black play in midfield had Ireland on the back foot. Scrumhalf Aaron Smith made a break down the left wing, skipped past Jared Payne and found Julian Savea out wide. Savea bounced off Tommy Bowe as the Ulsterman tried to track back, he stepped Rob Kearney and placed the ball down to crush Irish hearts. Barrett once again was flawless and made it 17-7. Ireland had to claw this back but a number of people watching from home had given up faith. Before the half ended Barrett landed a dropgoal from a central position to cement their position.

The Irish lads went into the changing room with plenty to ponder. They had 40 minutes to set the record straight.

The team ran back on to the pitch with increased intensity but there was an evident switch in mentality which gave them an obvious edge after the break. Sexton kicked deep and into the arms of Ben Smith on the left wing. Simon Zebo sprinted in pursuit and dragged him into touch. This was a very promising start and from the resulting lineout Ireland enforced serious pressure on New Zealand. They kept muscling up against the Kiwi’s defense for the next number of minutes. However, this was without much reward. Peter O’Mahony, Jamie Heaslip and Paul O’Connell were ever so important in Ireland’s charge as their leadership qualities shone through. Ireland moved across the field looking for gaps but New Zealand stood strong. Eventually a Richie McCaw turnover allowed Barrett to make a clearance kick.

Rob Kearney caught the ball in the Irish backfield and went on a surge. However, once he reached the halfway mark a flying hit from substitute Malakai Fekitoa on the Leinster man stopped him in his tracks. Ireland did well to recycle and Johnny Sexton tested Israel Dagg’s ability in the air with a couple of testing kicks. Unfortunately for Ireland, New Zealand managed ever so comfortably with the testing of their aerial ability. There needed to be change.

On the 65 minute mark, Ireland had a scrum in their opponents half. Paul O’Connell gathered his men in a huddle and pointed his finger as the game stopped to manage an injury picked up by Simon Zebo. The lads started to bounce on their feet once again as time was starting to run out. Ireland had done their country proud so far but that was no good to O’Connell, he needed the win as much as anybody elese in that team. He sent belief to each individual and like a flick of a switch. Ireland came to a state of inspiration which saw every memeber of the team appear almost possessed to the stage where they were all breathing fire, ready to kill. Only ten minutes to go! 13 points in it as it remained 20-7

The frontrows locked horns again. “Crouch! Bind! Set!” This time Ireland collectively drove straight over the All Black pack, marching over their bodies with minimum respect. Penalty for Ireland, Sexton found touch. Five out from the line and substitute hooker Sean Cronin threw one in which was taken down for the maul by Donnacha Ryan. Ireland drove again but were pulled down legally before the line. Cronin picked and went, just short. O’Mahony now. Paul O’Connell! The big man broke the All Blacks brutal defense and scored for Ireland! He will go out with something to treasure regardless of the result on his final outing for his country. Sexton converts to make it 20-14. Unbelievable scenes but Ireland were still behind with less than ten minutes to score a converted try.

Aaron Cruden who was now on the field for New Zealand kicked off. The ball stayed in the air for a substantial amount of time before Julian Savea leaped and picked it out of the air on the left wing. An All Black attack.

This was far from ideal for Ireland as they needed the ball, and fast. It was crucial that they stayed disciplined however, as New Zealand ran down the clock. On 75 minutes, the Kiwi’s had possession on the right flank. Smith gave it to Nonu who crashed it up into Jamie Heaslip. George Whitelock took the next carry around the fringe as Ireland became panicky and desperate. The New Zealanders went again as Smith popped one up for Kieran Read form a standing start. Paul O’Connell rushed out of line and gave the number eight a smack with his right shoulder at full pace and sent them back 5 yards. O’Mahony and O’Brien attempted to counter ruck but Smith just about managed to get rid of the sloppy ball as his men began to fall back on top of him. His pass was not ideal as a result but Malakai Fekitoa cleaned up in midfield by catching the ball around his waist. The Tongan born centre stepped outside of Henshaw only to meet the onrushing Jared Payne. Fekitoa threw a wide pass in the direction of Julian Savea….. INTERCEPTION!!!!

Tommy Bowe bursts out of the line and makes a brilliant read to catch the ball in the air. He sprints away from the New Zealand back-line and there is hysteria in the ground! The Ulster winger stretches his legs for the greatest of all World Cup climaxes!  He outpaces Israel Dagg and gets the ball down in the corner!

After a second or two of disbelief, the Irish team find the energy to sprint to Bowe and gather in a moment of ecstasy. Every Irish person in existence including those at Twickenham jump up and down with tears in their eyes!  The English stewards do more than enough to earn their wages as they prevent the Irish supporters from making their way on to the field in their masses. The chaos calms down as Johnny Sexton still has to conquer his nerve with a World Cup deciding kick from the corner. As it stands it is 20-19 to the All Blacks. If his infamous miss against the same opposition in 2013 creeps into his thinking for even a second, it may prove crucial.

The stadium falls silent as Johnny Sexton sizes up the kick from the right hand side touchline which will decide the champions of the Rugby World Cup for 2015. The Leinster outhalf blanks out everything and falls into his own world for the most important few seconds of his life… He strikes it! …. He likes it! He’s got it!!!!

Heroes.

You just can’t write this stuff…

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