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All to play for in Ireland’s Pool A, beware of a Samoan backlash

The Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the Rugby World Cup with The Irish Times sports team

Japan’s wing Kotaro Matsushima scores the crucial fourh try in his side’s win over Samoa. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty

It is a big week for Irish rugby, as Joe Schmidt's side prepare for their final pool fixture of the Rugby World Cup, against Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday. Joe Schmidt's side could still top Pool A if results go their way, or they could find themselves on an early plane home if Samoa produce a shock at the weekend. From Kobe Bay, Gerry Thornley writes: "If nothing else, at least Pool A is by some distance the most interesting of the four at this World Cup. Whereas the other three are pretty much done and dusted, Japan, Ireland and Scotland can all still advance to the quarter-finals, with each of the three having their qualification destiny in their own hands." Any sort of victory for Ireland against Samoa is likely to see them qualify for the last-eight, where either the All Blacks or Springboks await, but they should take nothing for granted against a Samoan side still bristling with injustice after their defeat to Japan on Saturday. Indeed, Gavin Cummiskey writes: "Financial realities will force players to choose club over country for at least the next three years. "We have nothing to lose now," said scrumhalf Dwanye Polataivao. "It's not about points or anything, just a big performance." Samoa are beyond dangerous now. Samoa are playing as if their livelihoods depend on it. Because they do."

Samoa's sense of injustice came from a late decision by referee Jaco Peyper to penalise the Samoans for a crooked feed at a five-metre scrum, in the 82nd minute of a tense match in Toyota. From the resulting free-kick Japan won a penalty, before engineering a chance for the electric Kotaro Matsushima to score in the corner. This secured a 38-19 win for the Brave Blossoms, as well as a crucial bonus point. And in his column this morning, Owen Doyle has questioned Peyper's controversial call: "The referees promised us consistency yet I cannot remember a single free kick for that so far in the tournament. Either all do it, or all don't do it - that's consistency. It was at the peak of inconsistency and blatantly unfair to Ireland and Scotland who are also competing for qualification. If that bonus point turns the pool on its head in the final analysis, there will be hell to pay."

If Ireland are rightly wary of a Samoan backlash, then their hopes of avoiding an upset will be aided by the return to action of Robbie Henshaw, who is set to see his first involvement of the tournament after recovering from a hamstring injury. He said: "There were a lot of stories going around that I was flying home and I had to get surgery and stuff, but that wasn't the case. It was a bit of a scare at the time, just a small tweak in the hammy. But when we had the scan, it actually wasn't too bad, so that gave us confidence to make sure I could turn it around in a couple of weeks. If push came to shove I could have played last Thursday [against Russia], so that was a positive." However, World Rugby are monitoring a typhoon which could have an impact on whether or not Saturday's game in Fukuoka will go ahead. Typhoon Hagibis has formed in the Western Pacific Ocean off the south coast of Japan, and forecasts have suggested it could hit the island of Kyushu this weekend. Any cancelled fixtures at the tournament are registered as scoreless draws, which could see Scotland leapfrog Ireland in Pool A.

Away from Japan and Manchester United's miserable start to the season continued yesterday, as they were beaten 1-0 away at Newcastle - debutant 19-year-old Matty Longstaff scoring a dream second half winner. Meanwhile Manchester City's title defence took another blow as they were beaten 2-0 at home by Wolverhampton Wanderers. In the day's other fixtures Chelsea won 4-1 away to Southampton while Arsenal saw off Bournemouth 1-0 at the Emirates.


And Na Piarsaigh's grip on the Limerick SHC finally slipped yesterday, as they were beaten 1-17 to 0-15 by Patrickswell, who secured a record 20th county title. In Dublin Con O'Callaghan inspired Cuala to a place in another SHC final after they swept aside St Vincent's 3-21 to 1-16. They'll play St Brigid's for the title, after they beat Craobh Chiarain 2-17 to 1-13 in the other semi-final.

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is a former sports journalist with The Irish Times