With perfect timing, as Rugby World Cup 2019 approaches, Irish rugby had arguably its best ever year in 2018.
A year to remember
Ireland started the year with a rare Grand Slam and finished it with an even rarer win over the All Blacks. All in all, these made 2018 a year Irish rugby will never forget.
Memorable highlights for Irish rugby included:
- clean sweep in the 2018 Six Nations Championship (beating France, Italy, Wales, Scotland and culminating in a tense showdown with England in the final match)
- becoming the first team to beat England in 19 matches
- Irish winger Jason Stockdale becoming the first player to score seven tries in a single Six Nations campaign
- overturning the 2013 missed opportunity to finally beat the All-mighty-Blacks in Ireland in the autumn internationals
- Irish club Leinster winning the European Champions Cup for a record fourth time (a record they share with French club Toulouse)
Close but no cigar, until now
To be clear, Ireland have in recent years been a clear Top 5 rugby nation. But it is only, as 2018 ends, that the Irish can lay claim to being considered the current best rugby team in the world.
Historically, Irish rugby has never gone past the quarterfinals in Rugby World Cup tournaments, a fact they hope to obliterate in Japan.
It had also, until recently, not beaten New Zealand in their history. The stirrings that that would change came in 2013, when they led with seconds left. But a heartbreaking steal by the All Blacks came in the final play of the game:
Joe Schmidt’s men finally sealed the deal in 2016, beating the All Blacks for the first time ever in Chicago. But that was on neutral soil.
And eventually, Ireland outplayed the All Blacks for the first time in Ireland in November 2018.
It meant not just lots of smiling Irish eyes and a huge surge in national pride but also the possible passing of the rugby torch.
Could next year surpass 2018 for the Irish? Will Schmidt finish his time with Ireland on a high in Yokohama?
We look forward to watching the possible rise and rise of Irish rugby.