Build up to the 2007 tournament
France played host to the 2007 tournament but as usual there was some politics involved and the Millennium stadium in Cardiff was awarded three pool games and a quarter-final. While Scotland would host two of their pool games at Murrayfield. Ireland were also given the option of hosting pool matches in advance of the tournament, but declined the offer as Lansdowne rd was under redevelopment at the time.
The tournament ran for 44 days between 7th September and 20th October, Eddie O’Sullivan’s Irish side however, crashed out before September was over. It was a massively anti-climatic end to a tournament that promised so much for Ireland’s golden generation of players.
In the 2007 Six Nations campaign prior to the World Cup the low point and the highlight for Ireland both came in home games at Croke Park. In the former, Vincent Clerc’s last minute try consigned them to a sickening 17-20 defeat to France. While in the latter, 83,000 witnessed a sensational 43-13 win over England. Away wins over Wales, Scotland and Italy saw Ireland secure their third triple crown in four years and just miss out on the championship on points difference to France.
Ireland prepared for the tournament with a training camp in Spala, Poland. It’s Cryotherapy centre and ice baths according to coach Eddie O’Sullivan “allows the players to train harder and, more importantly, recover more quickly from their physical exertion.” The benefits, it would transpire later, would catch up with the team in the long run.
The warm-up games saw a 31-21 defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield, a dubious Ronan O’Gara try in the 9th minute of injury time saw them avoid defeat against Italy in Belfast (23-20) and a the infamous battle of Bayonne saw them almost lose captain Brian O’Driscoll after being blindsided by second row Mikaera Tewhata. (https://www.rte.ie/sport/rugby/2007/0816/221635-ireland1/)
Ireland, it was acknowledged, were in a tricky pool. Pool D was give the group of death tag, as it contained 3 of the top 6 IRB ranked teams going into the tournament. France (3rd), Ireland (5th) and Argentina (6th) ensured there would be one high profile casualty at the group stage. While Georgia (17th) and Namibia(24th) were expected to make up the numbers.
9th September 2007: Ireland 32 Namibia 17
There was no hint of what was to come in the opening half as Ireland started well in Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux. O’Driscoll chipped over the Namibian defence to score the games opening try after just 5 minutes. A second try followed on 18 minutes after a Ronan O’Gara cross-field kick was by Andrew Trimble and after powerful break from Denis Leamy the ball was recycled to Simon Easterby who added a third Irish try before the break. Eight minutes after the restart Ireland were awarded a penalty try and O’Gara’s easy conversion gave Ireland a 27-3 lead.
Shortly before the hour mark the Namibian’s got a foothold with a try from Jacques Nieuwenhuis and within two minutes they went over again, this time centre Piet van Zyl hacked on a kick over the top from flyhalf Henini Bock and gathered to score. The conversion closed the gap to 10 points. Ireland had went from being dominant to looking like a boxer on the ropes within the space of a few minutes. The Namibians kept coming and the Irish had to put their bodies on the line to repel them. A contentious Jerry Flannery try against the run on play with four minutes to go put a gloss on the scoreline that Ireland scarcely deserved.
15th September 2007: Ireland 14 Georgia 10
Ireland were back in action in Stade Chaban-Delmas six days later. If the last twenty minutes of the Namibian game was a warning on tiredness within the squad, then it certainly went unheeded by the management. Ireland were to get an almighty scare against the Georgians. Eddie O’Sullivan made only one change from the side that started against Namibia. Fit again Shane Horgan replaced Andrew Trimble on the wing.
After 17minutes Rory Best found a way through the resolute Georgian defence for the games first score and O’Gara converted to give Ireland a seven point lead. However, they never built on the score and the floodgates failed to open after that as Ireland were dragged into a war of attrition. Referee Wayne Barnes sent David Wallace to the bin and Kvirikashvilli kicked the resulting penalty to leave the scoreboard reading 7-3 at the break.
Ireland came out with renewed purpose in the second half and started to push the tempo. But a shock was on the card when against the run of play Georgian winger Giorgi Shinkin intercepted a Peter Stringer pass to race in from 70 yards out. After the conversion Georgia were 10-7 ahead. Normal service seemed to be resumed on 53 minute when slick wing play from O’Driscoll and replacement hooker Jerry Flannery sent fullback Girvan Dempsey over in the corner.
Ronan O’Gara’s tricky conversion was to later prove crucial as it pushed the opposition out of penalty or drop goal range. The Georgians went on to dominate both territory and possession for the final twenty minutes of the game as they went in search of a try that would give them their first ever World Cup win. Irish player later spoke of feeling as if they were playing with lead in their legs during that final quarter.
Ireland were in full crisis mode as the repelled wave after wave of Georgia attack, on 78 minutes Denis Leamy prevented a certain try by getting his body under the ball as Georgia looked to have forced their way over. There was relief for all in green when the Argentina TMO returned the verdict of ‘held up’.
21st September 2007: France 25 Ireland 3
Once again there was a six day turnaround for the Irish. The venue this time was Stade de France to face the hosts. A 12-17 defeat to Argentina for the French in their opening game made it a must win game for Bernard Laporte’s side. Another defeat would see them become the first hosts to fail to qualify from their pool, so in Irish minds all the pressure was on France.
Once again O’Sullivan sent the same forward pack into battle for their third game in 12 days. Two changes in back division saw Peter Stringer dropped for Eoin Reddan and Andrew Trimble replace Denis Hickie on the left wing.
Ireland started well and threatened the French line on a couple of occasions within the opening twenty minutes. However, they were soon outclassed as France aggressively tore into O’Sullivan’s side. Four penalties from Jean-Baptise Elissalde to a solitary O’Gara drop goal saw the French go in at the break 12-3. Ireland were even flatter in the second half as Elissalde added another penalty and his Toulouse teammate Vincent Clerc scored a brace of tries. The defeat left Ireland on the bring of their first pool stage exit.
30th September 2007: Ireland 15 Argentina 30
The fact that Ireland failed to get a bonus point in their match against Georgia meant that even a win against Argentina wouldn’t ensure a quarter-final spot. Indeed it was a very tall order for O’Sullivan’s side as they needed a bonus point win while denying the Argentines a losing bonus and a thirty point margin of victory in order to progress.
Ireland started the opening half full of ambition and intent. They turned down a couple of kickable penalties and opted to go to the corner instead, but the try they were searching for never came. Instead it was the Argentines who were first to breach the whitewash. Scrum-half and captain Agustin Pichot sent winger Lucas Borges in for the games opening score. Argentina stretched their lead thanks to a Juan Martín Hernández drop goal before Brian O’Driscoll gave Ireland hope with a 32nd minute try. Ronan O’Gara’s conversion put Ireland 10-8 ahead. That hope however was quickly extinguished when another Hernández drop-goal and a try from Horacio Agulla sent Argentina in at the break 18-10 ahead.
A Filipe Contepomi penalty after the restart increased the lead, before the gap was narrowed to 6 points by a Geordan Murphy try on 47 minutes. That was as close as Ireland would get as two more Contepomi penalties and a third drop-goal of the game for Hernández sent Ireland crashing out.
What happened after that?
Ireland’s golden generation went crashing out, Argentina topped the pool and went on to beat Scotland in the quarters 19-13, before being crushed 37-13 by winners South Africa in the semi-finals. For runners-up France second place in the pool meant that the hosts had to travel to Cardiff to face the All-Blacks. In a phenomenal second-half performance the French edged it 20-18 despite trailing by thirteen points at one stage in the first half. They returned as heroes to Paris for the semi-final, which in typically mercurial French fashion they promptly lost to England.
Eddie O’Sullivan and his coaching team came in for much criticism on their return home and a 4th place finish after defeats to England, France and Wales in the 2008 Six Nations sealed his fate. He was replaced as Ireland coach by fellow Corkonian Declan Kidney.
Irish World Cup Squad 2007
Forwards: Neil Best, Rory Best, Simon Best, Simon Easterby, Stephen Ferris, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Marcus Horan, Denis Leamy, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Malcolm O’Kelly, Alan Quinlan, Frankie Sheahan, David Wallace, Bryan Young.
Backs: Isaac Boss, Brian Carney, Gordon D’Arcy, Girvan Dempsey, Gavin Duffy, Denis Hickie, Shane Horgan, Geordan Murphy, Brian O’Driscoll (captain), Ronan O’Gara, Eoin Reddan, Peter Stringer, Andrew Trimble, Paddy Wallace.