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The end, when it came, was not pretty. These World Cup quarter-final exits never are.
The 46-14 loss was their seventh defeat at this juncture and the biggest World Cup defeat in Irish history.
It shone a spotlight on the gap between notions and execution at this level.
Ireland didn’t become a bad team overnight, so the cliché goes.
It’s true, of course, but what they did do, starting with the loss to England in February, was stand still for nine months.
And when you want to play with the big boys – i.e. teams with real aspirations of getting to the last four in a World Cup – then standing still is the same as going backwards.
“We haven’t progressed, we’ve regressed,” said Eddie O’Sullivan.
New Zealand realized 11 months ago that they needed to adapt, Ireland believed that they could keep going back to a well that had served its purpose but had sprung a leak.
“You have to evolve and it’s clear that Ireland haven’t,” said former Ireland captain Donal Lenihan on RTÉ commentary.
Ireland, after defeat to England twice, Wales and Japan, were consistent in their denials that something was badly wrong.
Ireland crash out: Reaction from Japan with @treacyj @LenihanDonal @KEITHEARLS87 and @irishrugby fans #NZLvIRE #RWC2019 #rterugby pic.twitter.com/Z3eGaVhGG8
— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) October 19, 2019
One thing, they said, was definite; the team was not in disarray, not in need of a massive overhaul and not going to change its ways.
“There is a lot of stuff which Joe has drilled into us that are the foundations of our game,” said Rory Best before the record defeat in Twickenham two months ago, at which point they had suffered two damaging defeats that appeared to suggest that they had been figured out.
“Ultimately, you have to go back to that.” With what we know now, did Best believe that was the correct path to take?
The more the players came out with reasons why it would be all right on the night the more it sounded like the
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