Ireland will need their World Cup anthem Zombie in run of brutal games

Ireland fans celebrate victory over South Africa

It did not take long for footage to go viral of Irish fans and even players (step forward Peter O’Mahony) belting out the lyrics to The Cranberries’ Zombie in the aftermath of Ireland’s victory over South Africa in Paris on Saturday night. The images neatly captured the spirit of a pulsating, heady evening at the Stade de France, and the raw emotion that followed.

The use of Zombie was no accident, though. All teams are asked to submit entrance songs and celebratory songs in the event of a win and Zombie was played over the stadium’s PA system at the final whistle at the request of the IRFU, having been adopted as something of an unofficial Irish rugby anthem in recent games.

How has a protest song about the Troubles assumed this prominence? Well it has nothing to do with its message rejecting political violence, that much seems fairly certain.

Irish fans at the Rugby World Cup anthem
Irish fans have adopted Zombie by The Cranberries as their Rugby World Cup anthem - AFP via Getty Images/Julien de Rosa
Peter O'Mahony -  Ireland's unlikely Rugby World Cup anthem needs to inspire them through run of brutal games
Peter O'Mahony was captured singing along to the iconic song as he soaked up the atmosphere - Getty Images/Brendan Moran

The IRFU is staunchly apolitical. Ireland’s Call was originally commissioned by the union before the 1995 World Cup precisely because the anthem of the Republic of Ireland Amhrán na bhFiann was deemed offensive to some of its northern Irish members.

The IRFU would not wish to be seen to be pushing any political agenda, particularly after the controversy which blew up in Irish sport last year after its women’s footballers were fined for singing a song with the line “Ooh Ah Up the ‘Ra” after beating Scotland to qualify for the World Cup.

The reason Zombie has been adopted is far simpler. According to a piece in the Irish Times, after singer Dolores O’Riordan’s premature death in 2018, the Limerick band’s songs were played as a mark of respect at sports events all over Ireland, but particularly in Limerick.

Apparently Zombie won out over other songs such as Linger and Dreams because of its catchy, anthemic quality which allows fans of all ages and levels of inebriation to get involved. From Limerick hurling (Ireland wing Keith Earls noted last week that the song’s rise had accompanied his native county’s current run of All-Ireland hurling successes), it was picked up by Munster Rugby, and from Munster Rugby to Ireland Rugby.

After Saturday it has now surely cemented its status as Ireland’s World Cup anthem and will follow every victory from here on in. What price O’Mahony leading Ireland’s fans in even more raucous rendition of Zombie, after another win, at the same stadium, possibly over the same opponents, on October 28?

One thing is for sure, Andy Farrell’s men are going to have to do it the hard way if they are going to get there.

Ever since the draw for this tournament was announced nearly three years ago it was clear they would have to face either France or New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

Debate has raged ever since over which would be preferable. Victory over the Boks has greatly increased the likelihood of Ireland facing the All Blacks, assuming they can first negotiate a tricky test against Scotland in two weeks’ time.

Received wisdom would have you believe that is the easier task. New Zealand were thrashed by South Africa in a pre-tournament warm-up game, remember. And they were beaten by France in the tournament curtain-raiser.

But a wounded New Zealand are about as dangerous as you can get. And with Antoine Dupont potentially missing the quarters some might think now is a good time to face the hosts.

Either way, it is clear Ireland are going to have to play a succession of ‘finals’ if they are to progress through this tournament: South Africa, Scotland, New Zealand, followed most likely by the winner of Pool C, then France or South Africa again.

No wonder Farrell and his captain Johnny Sexton were refusing to get carried away by Saturday’s win. “It’s all about Scotland now,” Sexton insisted stony-faced when asked about the possibility of facing New Zealand in the quarters. “You can’t look beyond the next game.”

One thing Ireland do have going for them is they could not be in much better shape.

Not only did Farrell report a clean bill of health after the match, their accuracy and discipline around the contact area is such that they are not picking up suspensions or injuries.

If there was one big takeaway from Saturday’s test, it was that you can have an off-the-charts physical encounter without head collisions, without endlessly going to the TMO, without cards being handed out left, right and centre.

Partly that was down to excellent refereeing by Ben O’Keeffe, the New Zealand official, partly the accuracy of the two teams.

Ireland conceded nine penalties on the night, South Africa 11. That was despite a match which Mack Hansen, the Ireland wing, described as being like a “Grand Slam on steroids”.

“There were ebbs and flows, and ups and downs, and how we managed to stay on point mentally was the most pleasing thing,” Farrell reflected. “We’ve got very good at not getting too emotional.”