As the Rugby World Cup kicks off in Japan, Seán Creedon talks to former Irish rugby international Tony Ward about the many highs – and a few lows – of his sporting life.
The first soccer World Cup was staged in Uruguay in 1930, but it would be another 57 years before sports fans would get to experience a Rugby World Cup tournament.
The competition, which was staged in Australia and New Zealand in 1987, came too late for many of Ireland’s former rugby stars.
Players like Jack Kyle, Tony O’Reilly, Willie John McBride and Mick Gibson had to be content with the old Five Nations Championship every spring against England, Scotland, Wales and France to show what they could do.
However, Tony Ward, who has been the victim of some strange decisions by Irish Rugby selectors during his career, can tell his grandchildren that he did play for his country in the first-ever World Cup tournament.
Ward wore the number 10 jersey in the 46-19 win over Canada in Dunedin at the end of May 1987, and in the 32-9 win over Tonga at Ballymore, Brisbane in June, 1987. Paul Dean started Ireland’s first game where we were beaten by Wales and Dean was back at fly-half for the final game in our group when we lost to Australia.
The game against Tonga was to be the last of Ward’s 19 caps in an era where international players didn’t win anything like the number of caps current players do.
‘‘What I remember from that game in Ballymore was a banner on the terraces with the slogan K.R.A.M, which meant ‘Keep Rovers at Milltown’, and as a former Rovers player the banner resonated with me,’’ said Tony.
Ireland has competed at all eight Rugby World Cup tournaments and it will be nine later this month when the tournament is staged in Japan for the first time.
Our first game is against Scotland in Yokohama on September 22 and the other countries in our group are Japan, Russia and Samoa.
This time round Ward probably won’t be travelling to Japan as he took early retirement as Rugby Editor of the Irish Independent earlier this year. However, he hopes to write some columns on the tournament.
I sat down with Tony in the famous Goat Grill sporting pub in Dublin to talk about Ireland’s chances in the Rugby World Cup, but first we rolled back the years to the career of one of Ireland’s most talented rugby players, who also won an FAI Cup medal with Limerick in 1982.