Andy Farrell points to history as Ireland prepare to prove a point

In 2007, 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups, teams responded to setbacks in the pool

Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell says they are ready to prove a point. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell says they are ready to prove a point. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho


For the fourth time in this calendar year, and the second time this season, Ireland are looking for a response to a damaging defeat when they take on Russia in the stifling heat of Kobe Stadium tomorrow (kick-off 7.15am local time/11.15am Irish) following last Sunday’s 19-12 loss to an inspired Japan.

Furthermore, no team has ever lost a pool match in any of the previous eight Rugby World Cups and gone on to become world champions. Admittedly, if ever that was to change it was in this World Cup given how loaded the early stages have been with key pool games, and defence coach Andy Farrell has drawn on World Cup history to fuel Ireland’s belief that they can still make a major impact at this tournament.

“I think you can use a set-back in the right manner. I think you can look at the last three World Cups. South Africa lost to Japan and lost the semi-final (to New Zealand) 20-18. You look at 2011 France looked in disarray and there’s a debate about whether they should have won the final,” he said in reference to their 8-7 defeat by the hosts, New Zealand, in Eden Park.

“In 2007, I was part of the England squad that got a thrashing (36-0) against South Africa. There was a bit of turmoil in that camp and they managed to get to the final. There was a debatable try that was disallowed,” said Farrell in recalling the ‘try’ by Mark Cueto which was ruled out on review due to his foot faintly brushing the touchline early in the second-half, with the score 9-3 at the time to the Springboks.

“You can use these to your advantage, they’re not ideal but if you use them to your advantage they can be powerful. After a couple of days of understanding the reasons why, we’re in good spirits, back on track and ready to prove a point.”

Much of the build-up has revolved around the hot and humid conditions in the enclosed Kobe Stadium which has hosted England v USA (in which his son Owen played) and Scotland v Samoa matches at the oven-like venue.

“It’s hot. Because of the humidity in the stadium the ground sweats as well. So, the conditions are not what we’re used to but we’ve played in the rain quite a bit as well. It’s something we have to cope with, something we have to adapt to.”

“We know the stats from the last two games that have been here, 30 handling errors in one and 35 in the other. It’s being able to adapt to that. How do we adapt? We make sure there’s a no excuse mentality. There are going to be errors, we need to make sure that our defence shapes up pretty quickly to anything that is turned over.”

Ireland have only conceded one try in their two games to date, but their line speed and tackling accuracy was not as impressive against Japan as it had been against Scotland. They were also too narrow for the match-winning try by Kenki Fukuoka, although as Farrell pointed out, Ireland’s defensive resoluteness was typified by some wonderful scrambling too.

“Obviously, we lost so it wasn’t good enough. There’s a lot of disappointment within the camp. We’ve had a good few meetings since then, a good few training sessions and the feeling in the camp is one of excitement and wanting to put things right on the pitch tomorrow night.

“That can’t come quick enough, but as far as the defensive performance it’s a mixed bag to be honest. There are certain things I’m unbelievably proud of them for. If you look at that (saved) bonus point at the end, Keith Earls chasing back and it wasn’t just that, it was getting back on our line and forcing an error - it might be an unforced error in their minds - but we was ready to go.

“The three minutes just before half-time when they had a scrum on half-way and we kept them out there, Josh (van der Flier) chasing back and making sure he gets there - some heroic stuff from certain lads. But, yeah, it’s not the usual defensive pressure performance we saw the week before, you’ve seen big performances from ourselves.

“There’s a lot of reasons for that, Japan have a massive part to play in that. Collision-winning wasn’t where we wanted it to be and, again, there’s certain reasons for that; three tied into rucks from time to time, certain tactics that Japan used in and around the ruck to make that happen had an effect as well.

“But when you lose collisions you tend to put yourself in a vulnerable position, especially out wide. As I said, the stuff that was going on in and around the breakdown is stuff that we need to take care of ourselves.”

Farrell was asked how difficult it was to stay disciplined in defence when being penalised, wrongly as Joe Schmidt revealed the day before, on three occasions for offside.

“It’s like any type of error you make as a team,” said Farrell. “Like I was saying about the stadium here; you’ve got to adapt and have a no-excuse mentality. The only point Joe was trying to make yesterday is that we’re a disciplined side, we pride ourselves on our discipline massively.

“We don’t want to go back into ourselves, in fact we’ve been practicing rugby league this week by going back 10 metres so we’re not offside,” said Farrell wryly. “It’s unfortunate, at times, but we can’t let that affect ourselves. All we can do is make sure we’re disciplined and we want to show that tomorrow night.”

Explaining the thinking behind making Johnny Sexton captain ahead of the other vice-captain Peter O’Mahony for the first time, Farrell said: “Well, it’s always been a toss of a coin with those two because they’re so influential on the team and such good professionals and with the experience they’ve both got.

“Johnny has been great within camp the whole pre-season, he’s right on song and he’s determined to put his feelings across to the team. His calmness of how to deal with these situations is going to be crucial in the next two weeks.”

Sexton captained Ireland with some assurance in the endgame to the decisive third test win in Australia in 2018, when memorably saying to Pascal Gauzere: “I know you don’t like me but you have to talk to me.” Irish supporters will be watching his dealings with Jerome Garces closely.

“He cares so much, I think you’ve seen with his captaincy with Leinster that he’s learnt from those situations and it helps his game,” said Farrell.

“We talked about the conditions on Thursday night, things will happen that aren’t going to plan and we need to stay positive with each other and the referee and in the way that we play the game as well. Johnny is aware of all that.”

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