Why Ireland vs England is a key match in Rugby World Cup year

The Ireland vs England rugby showdown is the most awaited clash of the Six Nations this year, as it has been for the past few seasons. But this blockbusting fixture hasn’t always been a tight match-up.

In 1973, at the height of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, England travelled to Dublin to play Ireland in the Five Nations (as it was called then, before Italy joined) — something Scotland and Wales had refused to do the year before over safety concerns.

It was not a decision taken lightly with the RFU, the English governing body, consulting a few senior players to find out their thoughts before announcing that England would show up, no matter what.

Victory of sorts on the field

It was a decision that was much appreciated by the Lansdowne Road crowd of 50,000, which gave the English rugby team a standing ovation.

However, England, unlike today, were not that strong a team and they lost 18-9 (two tries to one).

At the post-match dinner later, English captain John Pullin famously said: “We might not be the greatest team in the world, but at least we turn up.

England ahead overall

England have obviously improved over the years.

In over 133 England vs Ireland rugby matches in 140-odd years, they have a winning record of 76-49 against the Irish; with eight matches ending in draws.

However, in the professional era, their rugby clashes have been much closer.

Of the 23 England v Ireland Five Nations / Six Nations matches since the game went professional in 1995, England have won 12 and Ireland 11.

Over the past 10 matches, however, Ireland held a slight edge; winning six to England’s four.

Ireland vs England Six Nations 2017 try photo
Iain Henderson reaches out to score a try in Ireland’s 39th win at the Aviva Stadium – 2017 Ireland vs England Six Nations

World Cup omens?

What is the significance of these results to the Rugby World Cup 2019, which kicks off in about nine months in Japan?

For Ireland, statistically nothing.

Ireland have never been past the quarterfinals at the World Cup. So there is obviously zero correlation between how they perform at the Six Nations and how they fare at the World Cup later in the year.

However, expectations do get high. 

Such as was the case in 2007, when they won the Triple Crown (a “title” for beating the other three British Isles teams).

Or in 2015, when Ireland were the Six Nations champions.

Which makes their eventual World Cup quarterfinal exit, in those years, even more depressing.

For England, though, the results against Ireland do seem to matter.

Beating Ireland is a good sign

England’s best World Cup performances also happen in the years when they are in good form in the Six Nations and that includes beating the Irish.

In their best year, 2003, when they won the World Cup, England had swept to a Grand Slam earlier that year. Their biggest win was over Ireland, by 42-6 — in Dublin.

England also beat Ireland en route to another Grand Slam in 1991, when they made the World Cup final but lost 12-6 to Australia.

The sole aberration was in 2007, when a disjointed England team lost to Ireland 13-42 in the Six Nations but somehow went on to make the World Cup final — after upsetting hosts France in the semifinal.

Losing to Ireland is an even worse sign

Worryingly for England, that 2007 Six Nations loss to Ireland was repeated in the subsequent World Cup years of 2011 and 2015.

England suffered their only 2011 Six Nations loss to Ireland, 24-8. 

And the same sequence occurred in 2015, when England lost 9-19 to Ireland but beat the other four teams.

Ireland vs England rugby clash in 2015 Six Nations

These coincided with two of England’s worst World Cup performances. 

They lost in the quarterfinal to France to end a sorry campaign both on and off the field in 2011. And they did not make it out of the group stage in 2015 — the first time a host nation had failed to qualify for the next round.

In a nutshell, prior to the past three World Cups, England have lost to Ireland in the Six Nations of those years. And their World Cup performances have deteriorated accordingly.

That is the warning for Eddie Jones’ men and something they have to check if they are to have any chance in Japan.

For Ireland, history is theirs for the making

For Ireland, well, it’s all about repeating last year’s great form and carrying it through to Japan. Beating England would be imperative to those plans.

The 2019 Six Nations Championship kicks off on Friday, February 1st, with France vs Wales.

The Ireland vs England rugby clash will be on February 2nd. As well as Scotland vs Italy.

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  1. So by your reasoning ENgland is going to have a very good World Cup, since they walloped Ireland in Dublin? I hate to say it but you could be right, especially if they can beat Wales in 2 weeks’ time. (I’m assuming they beat France easily).

    • I’m still hoping for a brand new winner in the RWC 2019. That’s why we’ve been heavily analysing the Rugby World Cup 2019 fixtures, to spot who has a real chance of taking it from New Zealand. Let’s hope Ireland at least makes it past quarterfinals.

  2. It doesn’t matter anyway. New Zealand is going to win – again. (I’m not an ABs fan, by the way)

    • I wouldn’t be so sure.

      There are lots of inexperienced players in the All Blacks team and the senior hands such as Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock and Aaron Smith seem to be on the way down.

      And Ireland, Wales, England and South Africa will all be dangerous.

      And don’t forget, as usual, the enigma that is France.

  3. I love both countries so for me whoever wins, l am happy, OK maybe I would be more happy if Ireland wins, l have a soft spot for the Irish because I had a very good friend from Ireland. just a quick question, did Kenya qualify? I really don’t follow sport very much but l know Kenya was doing quite well in Rugby.


    • Yep, would love for the Irish luck to get them another Ireland vs England rugby win.

      I’m afraid Kenya did not qualify.  They were part of the Rugby World Cup repechage in November but finished behind Canada, Germany and Hong Kong.

      Kenya rugby is actually better at Sevens rugby than XVs.  They’re probably in the top ten in the world when it comes to seven-a-side rugby games.  They had won the IRB Sevens World Series cup in Dubai in 2016.

  4. Hi! Thank you for establishing this correlation between the results obtained by England when they have played against Ireland in the Five Nations / Six Nations matches and afterwards in the World Cup.

    I’ll be playing even more attention to the game now. Lot’s has been said about this match. And commentators have opposing views. But the results are definitely a good thermometer.

    • Yeah but remember, only a good thermometer for England.  They seem to have had no effect on Ireland’s past world cup performances.  

      But we’re still keen to see Ireland follow through on their stellar performance and kick History by  making it past the quarterfinals already!

  5. Really looking forward to the start of the Six nations and I actually fancy Ireland to do well. Interesting bit of history you have added there, I was never aware that both Scotland and Wales had refused to play in Ireland back in the early 70,s, a great quote there from John Pullin. So, you have written a great article but at the end you didn’t say who your money is on for this year’s six nations. Is it Ireland for you?

    • Yeah, that 1973 Five Nations tournament was quite interesting.  Due to all the disruptions, all five nations ended up sharing the title!  That must be a one-off for any sport!  Don’t think that’s ever happened in any tournament, in any sport!

      For the 2019 Six Nations, I reckon Ireland.  Simply because they have fewer players out, injured.  And their players, in general, are better rested.  Plus, they’re playing at home!

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