Ireland say goodbye to stalwarts Johnny Sexton, Keith Earls; more to bid farewell soon?; Andy Farrell: "The sad thing is it's the end for this team, but we will continue to challenge"; Warren Gatland: I want to stay and rebuild Wales after exit to Pumas; "We've made good strides"
Sunday 15 October 2023 14:25, UK
We look at what comes next for Ireland and Wales, after they suffered hugely-disappointing Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeats to New Zealand and Argentina on Saturday...
Ireland were handed a devil of a draw this World Cup, but such has been their form over the last two years, No 1 world ranking, and the victories they have picked up, many thought this was Ireland's best-ever chance to win a World Cup.
In the end, they have suffered an agonising eighth quarter-final exit in their history, and are still waiting to make a World Cup semi-final.
Captain, playmaker and perhaps the greatest player they have ever had in Johnny Sexton retires from the sport after the defeat, while Munster and Ireland legend Keith Earls is also bowing out, head coach Andy Farrell confirmed.
Several other key campaigners in Bundee Aki at 33, Peter O'Mahony at 34 and Conor Murray at 34 will almost certainly not be around by the time of the next World Cup in 2027 in Australia, but they are not going anywhere for the moment.
Even the likes of 31-year-old backs Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe, and 31-year-old lock duo Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson may well be retired by Australia. It will be a very different squad in four years' time, and will have to go some way to match the quality and performances of this 2023 squad.
Six Nations Grand Slammers, Test series winners in New Zealand, 17 Test wins in a row, but still the World Cup proved their kryptonite.
"You've got to work hard for fairytale endings and we didn't get it, but that's life," said an emotional Sexton post-match. He also went on to praise the talent in the squad which will be around.
Dan Sheehan, Ronan Kelleher, Andrew Porter, Caelan Doris and Hugo Keenan to name just five, are all in their mid-20s, and will seek to guide Ireland into a new era now.
Ireland head coach Farrell, who repeatedly spoke of his pride for his players in the aftermath, said post-match: "The sad thing for us now is, it's probably the end for this team. It is for Johnny, and Keith Earls is going to retire as well. Things are going to change.
"Over the next 24 hours it's time to make sure we get a smile back on our face as soon as we possibly can and celebrate what has been some unbelievable careers and what they have done for Irish rugby.
"Fine margins and all that. We got held up over the line from a maul very close to the end, which could have sealed it.
"At the end of the day, two good teams were out there playing some outstanding rugby. Unfortunately we came out on the wrong side of the scoreboard. Sport can be cruel, that's why we love it so much."
Farrell was resolute in his belief Ireland will be back to challenge for major honours, though. With the task of finally getting over their World Cup quarter-final curse no doubt top of his mind.
He cut a figure clearly hurting at the post-match press conference, but proud and content Ireland had gone out on their shield, and could not have given more.
"I'm immensely proud of absolutely everyone connected to Irish rugby. The staff have been immense over the last four years," Farrell said.
"The players, not just in this squad but the players we've used in the four-year cycle have been a joy to work with. And not just that, the connection with the fans, it seems like it's all one big family.
"It is the end for this team because people are going to be leaving but the competition that this team has built over the years will continue because of how it has been driven, certainly over the last couple of years.
"The talent that we've got in Ireland will continue to come through and will continue to challenge, I've no doubt about that."
After Wales' hugely-disappointing exit to Argentina in Marseille, head coach Warren Gatland admitted there was a clause in his contract which could see him depart, but he has vowed to stay on and rebuild.
Drawn on the much easier side of the draw at this World Cup, Gatland also admitted defeat felt like a "missed opportunity".
"I want to take this group on further," Gatland said post-match. "There's a clause, but I don't know exactly what the wording is. I haven't actually read it.
"I absolutely want to see this group through, but if the Union want to get rid of me, then they're completely entitled to do that. That's up to them.
"We're massively disappointed because it's a missed opportunity.
"We were not at our best, but still could have won. We're gutted that this slipped away from us.
"The way we trained, we went into this game thinking if we can be accurate then we can get to the semi-finals. But it wasn't to be and that's sport.
"However I'm incredibly proud of the effort everyone has put in. We've made good strides and we need to make sure we continue on that path into the Six Nations and not go backwards. That's the challenge.
"This is an exciting group, but we have to take learnings. We need to look at 'how do you improve and develop from this?' and learn."