Ireland's 1987 Rugby World Cup campaign began with a tragedy as an IRA bomb marked the end of Lord Justice Maurice Gibson’s life and Nigel Carr’s rugby career.
Approaching the border, en route to an international training session in Dublin, Carr was caught up in the blast that left him with fractured ribs, an injured spleen and broken leg.
“I was lucky to survive,” Carr would later say. Few saw him as fortunate, though. One of the most talented Irish players of his generation, he had just come off the back of a superb season, helping Ireland to victory over Wales in the final game of the Five Nations championship, a forerunner for their World Cup opener seven weeks later.
Without Carr, however, Ireland weren't the same side. “There was a determination in the squad, after the bombing, that we wanted to do well for Nigel,” said Davy Irwin, Carr’s fellow international and the man who pulled him from the wreckage of his car in the aftermath of the bomb. “It was a shame he wasn’t in New Zealand because he would have been great.”
Carr wasn’t the only notable absentee from that opening World Cup. South Africa, the pariahs of international sport in the 1980s, didn’t receive an invite. Nor, controversially, did Western Samoa even though they were a markedly superior side to Japan, whose presence helped the World Cup marketing team convince KDD, a Japanese telecommunications company, to become the tournament’s main sponsor.
Against this backdrop of absent friends, Ireland – from a sporting perspective – stood a great chance of travelling far in the competition. Their group, containing the Welsh, Tonga and Canada, was considered fairly easy. More attractive yet was the prospect of facing England, who they had defeated 17-0 just three months previously, in the quarter-finals. Sure, what could go wrong?
The answer was everything. On the eve of the tournament, Mick Doyle – their coach – suffered a heart-attack. Without their figurehead, and deprived of one of their best players, Ireland arrived onto the Wellington pitch for the start of this grand new venture desperately in need of inspiration. They didn’t get it from their anthem, though.
In the aftermath of the border bombing, the Ulster contingent within the Irish squad made it clear they didn’t want to stand for Amhrán na bhFiann. “The fact that Nigel wasn’t with us because of the explosion, well, The Soldier’s Song wouldn’t have felt very appropriate to some of us,” Trevor Ringland, the former Irish winger, explained in an interview with the Irish Times.
“We were standing there, and I actually didn’t know what song was going to come on. And then it was The Rose of Tralee. Wales had Land Of My Fathers, a big rousing rendition of it. And I remember thinking, ‘God, you wouldn’t really lay down your life for The Rose Of Tralee, would you?'”
They didn’t. Ireland lost 13-6, before defeating Canada and Tonga to set up a quarter-final date with Australia in Sydney, a game only 14,356 bothered to attend. And you can understand the apathy. Twenty-four points adrift at half-time, beaten 33-15 in the end, Ireland were outfought, outclassed and out of the tournament.
Thanks to Inpho.ie for the above images.