# Burden of History
'The difference now is we're not favourites going into this quarter-final'
Ireland have never won a World Cup knock-out game but Joe Schmidt’s men are quietly confident.

SIX WORLD CUP quarter-finals, six defeats.

Australia in 1987 and again in 1991. The French in 1995 and 2003. The Welsh in 2011, then Argentina last time out in 2015.

Not only have Ireland lost every one of their knock-out games at Rugby World Cups, they have often felt that they simply underperformed on the big occasion too.

conor-murray-dejected-after-the-game Dan Sheridan / INPHO Ireland have bad memories of World Cup quarter-finals. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Even accounting for the injuries, the performance from Joe Schmidt’s side against the Pumas in Cardiff four years ago was disappointing, while Declan Kidney’s Ireland were poor against the Welsh in 2011 after rocking the tournament by beating the Wallabies in their pool.

It would be easy for Schmidt’s Ireland to now look at this year’s quarter-final with some trepidation, particularly with World Cup favourites New Zealand waiting in Tokyo Stadium on Saturday, but assistant coach Andy Farrell insists that history is no burden.

“Not at all,” said Farrell. “Honestly, it wouldn’t be in anyone’s thinking within the management, never mind the playing group, not for one second, because there’s a job to do and we’ll give it our best shot.”

The vibe around Ireland’s team hotel in Fukuoka before they flew up to Tokyo on Monday afternoon was certainly one of steely determination and there was a fair hint of genuine confidence.

Being 12-point underdogs thoroughly suits Schmidt’s men, while they will draw on criticism of their performances earlier in this competition as further motivation.

For key man Johnny Sexton, this quarter-final feels different and he believes the usual last-eight underperformance is out of Ireland’s system already.

“I’m hoping that having lost a pool game that we’ve got that quarter-final performance out of our system that we’ve had in other tournaments,” said Sexton.

“The way we played against Japan was probably very similar to the way we played against Wales and Argentina in the last two tournaments.

“The difference now is we’re not favourites going into this quarter-final whereas we were in the last two. So we’re building nicely, we haven’t hit our best performance yet and we need to get close to that to get the right result on Saturday.”

jacob-stockdale-celebrates-scoring-their-first-try-with-josh-van-der-flier Gary Carr / INPHO Ireland beat the All Blacks 16-9 last November. Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

The All Blacks remain World Cup favourites and an Ireland win in Saturday’s game would count as a real upset, but Schmidt’s side will draw on their previous experiences of beating the Kiwis for further belief, as well as for elements of their game plan this week.

Having waited 111 years to beat them, Ireland have won two of the last three meetings between the teams, while several Irishmen were part of the Lions squad that drew a series with Steve Hansen’s side in 2017, winning one of the Tests.

Defence coach Farrell, meanwhile, has also beaten the All Blacks in his previous guise as an England assistant coach, meaning he has four wins over the Kiwis on his CV.

“You’ve got to score points,” said Farrell about the keys to winning against New Zealand. “There’s no doubt about it – you’ve got to score points against the All Blacks because they’re a dangerous threat.

“You’ve got to take your game to them and I think we’ve been able to do it in the past. Whoever has beaten them of late has taken their game to them. But they’re a pretty formidable side. You have to play your own game and score points because there’s no doubt they will.”

Sexton, meanwhile, said it’s all about Ireland taking their opportunities.

“Being clinical, when you do get a chance you have to take it. That sounds easy but it’s a lot harder to do against such a quality team but if you can do that, then you give yourself a chance.

“Your defence has to be the best it can be, we’ll need to be at our best in that regard and with our discipline too.”

So basically everything needs to be perfect? Ireland’s form in 2019 might not suggest that they can deliver a performance that nears perfection but Schmidt’s players believe they have built nicely for this quarter-final.

Last weekend’s hammering of Samoa was a timely momentum lifter, coming after a very enjoyable nine-day stint in Fukuoka that saw the players have a full weekend off, head on a big night out together, and then welcome their partners and families out to Japan.

peter-omahony-and-robbie-henshaw-celebrate-after-the-game Dan Sheridan / INPHO Ireland hammered Samoa on Saturday in Fukuoka. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“That was huge,” said Farrell. “You know what, we walked back into team room [after the Samoa win] and the families were in there and I actually thought to myself, ‘Thank God we won’ because some of them had only just arrived.

“It would have been a disaster if they’d just arrived and then they were straight back home on Monday. It’s so pleasing to see the boys with their families and just be able to see the smiles on everyone’s faces because ultimately that’s what it’s all about.

“It’s proud moments for families to come over here and see their sons doing unbelievably well, playing in a World Cup and watching their sons perform and get through to a World Cup quarter-final. So it’s great that they get to stick around.”

Whether the families will be staying on in Japan for just another week remains to be seen, but Ireland feel well placed to overcome the odds and knock the favourites out of this World Cup.

Crucially, Schmidt has a fully-fit squad to select from. Although Bundee Aki seems likely to be missing through suspension, there are still strong options in midfield and elsewhere.

And one thing Ireland are certain about is that the All Blacks won’t enjoy playing them.

“We’d like to think that nobody thinks it’s nice playing against Ireland,” said Farrell. “There’s one thing for sure: come the weekend, we’ll certainly be hard to beat, there’s no doubt about that.

“There’s been a good start to the tournament and everyone’s reported on a levelling off or a blip along the way but there’s a nice bit of confidence from the Samoa performance.

“Can that be better? Does it need to be better? 100% it does and that’s a good thing for us going forward as well.”

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