Ireland fully rested for Samoa challenge

Ireland fully rested for Samoa World Cup challenge
3 October 2019; Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt prior to the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

By Phil Rice

After the intensity of three matches in 12 days, all at different venues, the Ireland players will be relieved to have had a nine-day break before they tackle the abrasive Samoan challenge on Saturday in their final Group A game.

Joe Schmidt’s side still has qualification for the quarter-finals within its own hands, but not on the terms they would have liked.

An unexpected defeat by the hosts means that Japan are favourites to top the group and leave Ireland to face the not inconsiderable challenge of world champions and favourites New Zealand in the last eight.

There are still some permutations which could lead Ireland to pip Japan to top spot, but all of these require Scotland to beat the hosts in the concluding Group A match on Sunday. The Scots did that comfortably, winning 61-0.

Ireland fully rested for Samoa World Cup challenge
1 October 2019; Head coach Joe Schmidt, right, and Jonathan Sexton in conversation during Ireland Rugby squad training at the Kobelco Steelers in Kobe, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The hosts have been a revelation during this tournament and their continued involvement would certainly add to the ‘joie de vivre’ of the event.

Scotland have under-performed and will be desperate to put in one big performance which could elevate them to group runners-up.

The worrying aspect of Ireland’s current situation is the lethargy that has dogged the team in their last two matches against Japan and Russia.

After an impressive showing against a disappointing Scottish side, Ireland only performed for the first 20 minutes against Japan, and since then have not looked anything like world beaters.

Remaining Group A Fixtures

Saturday 12th October
Ireland v Samoa
Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka
kick-off 7.45pm local time/11.45am Irish time

Sunday 13th October
Japan v Scotland
International Stadium Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama City
kick-off 7.45pm local time/11.45am Irish time

This may not be the greatest Irish team, man-for-man, to represent their country at the World Cup, but they have performed better than any other nation in the intervening four years since the last World Cup in England.

This has raised expectations among their supporters and the team are aware they have not excelled so far in this tournament.

There is a belief, however, that there is a big match within this group of players and Schmidt must be hoping the team are saving it for the quarter-finals.

Captain Rory Best said last week: “We have a lot of individual talent but at the same time we also know our strength is our collective. When that doesn’t function and you fall off by a couple of per cent, you’re going to be susceptible.”

3 October 2019; Jonathan Sexton of Ireland during the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Schmidt will be looking for five points against Samoa on Saturday to guarantee quarter-final qualification. But that is far from assured as Samoa are not just aggressive, they are also very capable, as they showed against Japan last weekend.

The Ireland coach will have been wishing Samoa would have kicked the ball out of play when they were awarded a penalty on their line after 80 minutes last Saturday.

Instead they called for a scrum and Japan turned the ball over and gratefully accepted the opportunity to score the crucial fourth try that gave them the bonus-point.

The scoreline flattered the home team and Samoa were in contention for much of the match. Ireland will need to perform at their best to ensure a bonus-point win.

 

Schmidt has said he wants Johnny Sexton to play for at least 50-60 minutes against Samoa, as the Leinserman had limited game time to this point.

The importance of the ‘world player of the year’ to his country was summoned up by centre Chris Farrell, who described the fly half as someone who “leads from the front”.

“He’s someone I get so excited to be playing with, he gives you that little bit of space and time and he’s so consistent with what he does that you know what you’re getting every single time,” he said.

 

“Even during the week, all the little micro chats that he’d be having – not just with the same players over and over again, but he goes and seeks the players that he needs to – and he gets what he wants out of them.”

Robbie Henshaw has played no part in the tournament to date and he will be keen to get on the pitch to get some playing time before a potential quarter-final against one of rugby’s superpowers.

The Irish injury list is lengthening and Schmidt will be hoping his frontline players avoid damage on Saturday, in a game that is sure to be confrontational.


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