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Are Ireland and Leinster the biggest chokers in world rugby?

By Jon Newcombe
PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 23: Jasper Wiese of South Africa confronts Andrew Porter of Ireland during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between South Africa and Ireland at Stade de France on September 23, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Drawing parallels between another trophy-less season for Leinster and Ireland bombing out of the quarter-finals of last year’s Rugby World Cup, Springbok legends Jean de Villiers and Schalk Burger believe that mental frailty is the root cause for the failure.


Nearly half of Ireland’s Rugby World Cup squad (16 out of 33) featured in both of Leinster big game losses this season: the 22-31 Champions Cup final defeat to Toulouse and the equally demoralising URC semi-final exit to the Bulls in Pretoria.

Leinster – or Ireland in blue, as they have been called in the past, given the majority of their players are internationals – have now gone three years without any silverware.

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And the two Rugby World Cup 2007 winners, de Villiers and Burger, say that it’s not down to a lack of talent but rather what is going on in the top two inches that is seeing both the provincial team and the national team fall short of meeting expectations.

In the latest episode of RPTV’s Boks Office, back-rower Burger likened the situation to the one Northern Ireland golfer Rory McIlroy is going through in his elusive search for a fifth Major title.

“You saw it with Rory McIlroy on the weekend, at the US Open,” he points out. “It’s not the technical fault he has got, it’s a mental hurdle he has got to get over. He missed two short puts in the last three holes and made three bogeys out of the last five and (Bryson) DeChambeau wins it, That hurts, that stings.

“There’s a trend in all these big games (with Leinster and Ireland),” he continues. “the pack of forwards crumbles and then it becomes hard to play their style, the breakdown becomes a bit more of a contest, and they don’t have that speed of play that they sort of get through their nine (Jamison) Gibson-Park and (Ross) Byrne at 10.”



De Villiers points out that while 80% of the players are shared, the coaches are different, with Andy Farrell in charge of Ireland and Leo Cullen the man pulling the strings with Leinster.

But Burger believes that the similarities are still sufficient for the correlation to be made between provincial and international failure.

“Yes, but it’s the same type of style though, with the way they play,” he suggests.

“The Boks can really challenge them physically.”

Ireland, of course, have an opportunity to debunk such theories when they take on the reigning world champions – minus the injured Gibson-Park – in next month’s two-Test series.

The series begins in Pretoria – the scene of Leinster’s humbling at the hands of the Bulls – on July 6th, and concludes in Durban the following Saturday, July 13th.


De Villiers says that a successful summer tour would do wonders for Ireland psychologically.

“It is concerning from their side, there’s some mental damage there, I would think,” he concedes.

“I am sorry to say this but it is like our (South African) cricket team, the more you want to get away from it, the more it just sticks to you..

“You shake it by being in that situation, performing when the big game arises, and getting over the line, and they haven’t been able to do that. Fast forward a couple of weeks, though, and they get another opportunity.”


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Turlough 24 days ago

Another thing to consider with leinster is that they always try and pursue two titles.
That said they tend to favour the champions cup. They got to the final against a great Toulouse team. Dupont played one of his great games (in defense and kicking this time). Toulouse produced a turnover masterpiece. And still it came down to a missed drop goal and arguably not perfect end of match nous by Leinster.

In the URC the result that really hurt them was the loss to Ulster in Belfast. That meant that Leinster would finish behind the Bulls in the standings and have to travel to Pretoria. That was the one fixture where they were potentially vulnerable. It still took a great game by the bulls and a masterclass by the coach. Leinster and Ireland will learn a great deal from that loss.

The one lesson I would like them to learn is to pre-analyse your weakensses as thoroughly as an opposition does and fix.

Ben 24 days ago

Ireland are 100% Chokers at the WC…..7 QF exits must pass as choking….
They have been the best team over the last 2 years yes, but if you keep getting dumped out of the biggest tournament at a QF it must be a choking thing……Winning 6 nations all good and well, but you playing sub par teams - so not that big of a achievement.

Haunui 25 days ago

France still are undisputed World Cup chokers. Being defined as a choker means almost winning but at the last hurdle continuing to snatch defeat from jaws of victory. France made the very first RWC grand final back at the inaugural tournament in 1987. They then made the final in 1999 and then 2011 yet no cigar. Ireland on their hand have never made it past the quarters. They have never made it far enough to be defined as chokers . They are just seemingly poor at knockout rugby

Liam 25 days ago

Yes. Used to be you could say the ABs at world cups were the worst, now it's no contest Ireland are the champs

John 25 days ago

Ireland no, Leinster maybe

John 25 days ago

They won the last two six nations titles including a grand slam in that. I’d probably look at it another way that if you had told me Ireland would have got to where they now are 10 years ago I wouldn’t have really thought it possible. It is a minority sport in an already small country so we really have rung every drop out of what we have. But expectations change when you do really well and people expect more and more regardless.

Flankly 25 days ago

Choking is not the same as being outplayed. Choking is about losing the plot in some unforced way. That’s not a description of either Ireland or Leinster.

What’s more like it is that opponents have watched enough tape to figure out how to stop the Ireland attack, at least well enough to push for the win. The game plan is not working so well against top teams, and it does not help that the conductor of the show has packed up his playing boots.

Billy 25 days ago

Both teams are more like victims of their own sucess - held to high standards because of what they’ve achieved. As newcomers to the top tier especially the national team they should expect heartbreak before they learn to manage themselves at that level. For instance both teams that reached the Finals were in now way committed to winning all their games before that …

Thomas 25 days ago

Not a fan of Ireland, but they’re far away from being the worst chokers in World Rugby. They’ve won too many 6N Grand Slams in the last decade, and have beaten literally every team that matters in the last World Cup Cycle.
While they are, and by a landslide, the biggest chokers at the RWC, that’s not the same thing as to say they’re the biggest chokers in World Rugby. The very idea is preposterous. They were the #1 ranked team for what a year and a half, and had what 17 game unbeaten streak? How’s that anywhere close to choking?
The same in light blue is valid for Leinster. Too much silverware, and too many podium finishes in the last decade to be considered the biggest chokers.
This seems to be a deliberately antagonizing headline.

Ross 25 days ago

Not a hint of trying to ryle people up with an article like this. And as others have pointed there are others that are in the same boat or more worthy of this accolade. Hoping the teams never actually read any of these articles.

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