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A History of heartbreak – 1987 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand

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As one of the founder members of the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB), Ireland automatically qualified for the first Rugby World Cup. The hosts Australia and New Zealand along with other four board members were England, Scotland, Wales, and France were also guaranteed a place. South Africa also had a seat on the IRFB board but were not invited due to a sporting embargo caused by the pro-apartheid policies of their government.

The IRFB also issued invitations to nice associate members to bring the tournament total up to 16 teams. Argentina, Canada, Fiji, Italy, Japan, Romania, Tonga, United States and Zimbabwe all made the trip to Australia and New Zealand for the inaugural competition.

Pool Two

Ireland were drawn in Pool 2 alongside Wales, Canada and Tonga. However, disaster struck before their opening game. Ireland’s coach and former international player, Mick Doyle, suffered a heart attack at the opening dinner in New Zealand. He was admitted to hospital in Auckland to recover, but the Kerryman made a good recovery and was back in charge before the end of the Pool stages.

Ireland lost their opener to the Welsh on the 25th May in Wellington by 6-13, Mark Ring got the only try of the game for the Welsh and two Jonathan Davies drop goals made sure of the result. Ireland’s scores coming from two Michael Kiernan penalties. 

Five days later they were in action again, this time in Dunedin against Canada. It was to prove a comfortable 46-19 win for the Irish. Keith Crossan (2), Michael Bradley, Brian Spillane, Trevor Ringland and Hugo MacNeill accounting for the tally of seven Irish tries. Michael Kiernan converted five of the tries and also added two penalties. The Canadian hooker, Mark Cardinal, crossed for their only try, while Wasps player Gareth Rees kicked three penalties and a drop-goal. 

Before their final pool game against Tonga on the 3rd of June, the Irish squad had to move camp from the South Island of New Zealand to Brisbane in Australia. The Irish enjoyed another convincing win in front of only 4,000 at a rather empty-looking Ballymore. Irish Centre, Brendan Mullin, ran in a hat-trick of tries and Hugo McNeill added another two, as the Irish outscored their Tongan opponents 5 tries to nil. Three conversions and two penalties from Tony Ward also added gloss to Ireland’s 32-9 win.

Our first Quater-Final exit

Second spot in Pool 2 gave Ireland a tough quarter-final assignment against the winners of Pool 1. In the key match in that pool the co-hosts Australia had beaten England 19-6 to seal top spot, so it was off to Sydney to take on the formidable challenge of a quick and skillful Aussie side.

Ireland were up against and needed a good start against their more illustrious opponents.  Unfortunately, it was the home side who struck first after there minutes. A fired up Philip Matthews launched himself into the air in an attempt to block down Nick Farr-Jones’ garryowen and as he turned his body away from Farr-Jones he caught him square in the face with his hip.  Match referee Scotland’s Brain Anderson awarded a penalty to the home side, which Michael Lynagh duly converted. An illustration of how refereeing has changed since 1987 is illustrated by the fact that a carbon copy of this incident saw CJ Stander receive a straight red card after catching Patrick Lambie under almost identical circumstances during Ireland’s 2016 tour to South Africa. 

The injured Nick Farr-Jones was replaced at scrum-half soon after by Brian Smith, who would later go on to represent Ireland. Andy McIntyre got the games first try after both Michael Bradley and Hugo McNeill spurned chances to clear the ball. The substitute Smith added a second try off the back of a five-meter scrum a few minutes later.  Shortly after the scoreline got worse from an Irish perspective, when their defence was torn open by Matthew Burke for a third Aussie try. At half-time, Ireland were 24-0 behind and a rout was on the cards. 

Another Lynagh penalty after the break increased Australia’s lead to 27 points. Ireland finally broke their duck when Michael Kiernan converted a penalty to take the bare look off the scoreboard. Quick hands from the Australian backline saw Matthew Burke cross for his second try before a late mini-revival from the Irish side. Hugo MacNeill gave the travelling fans something to cheer about with cheeky dummy creating space after a cleverly worked move off the back of a tap and go penalty from 5 meters out. Ireland added a second try late in the game from Michael Kiernan, which came after a great bursting drive from prop Phillip Orr and a strong carry from Phillip Matthews. The final score read Australia 33 Ireland 15

Little did we know at the time, but a quarter-final exit was to become a familiar theme for Irish rugby. 

After Ireland’s exit….

The Australians fell at the next hurdle, as the hosts went down by 24-30 against the French in the semi-finals. While in the other semi-final, our pool opponents Wales suffered a heavy 49-6 defeat to the All-Blacks.

New Zealand became the first side to lift the Webb-Ellis Cup after defeating France 29-9 in front of their home crowd at Eden Park, Aukland. Grant Fox was the star of the show with a conversion, a drop-goal and four penalties.

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