Gerry Thornley: Storm brewing as Samoa bid to take anger out on Ireland
Gluey slugfest with bristling Pacific Islanders is the last thing Joe Schmidt’s side need
Bundee Aki in training ahead of Ireland’s clash with Samoa next Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Storm clouds gathering again. Ultimately the severe weather alert for the opening weekend proved unfounded, with the New Zealand-South Africa game unaffected and the rain arriving just before the interval for Ireland’s opener against Scotland. And with Ireland 19-3 ahead, that couldn’t have been better timed.
But something about the word typhoons is always to going to make us a little more excitable. It’s not a word that is normally part of our lexicon in Ireland.
We do storms, ie Lorenzo, but not typhoons, ala Mitag and Hagibis.
As Greg Feek warned us all at the outset weather forecasts are notoriously unpredictable hereabouts. So it was that the 18th typhoon of Japan’s rainy seasons, Typhoon Mitag, did not prevent the France-USA game going ahead at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium (where Ireland are due to play their final pool game against Samoa next Saturday) as scheduled last Wednesday, despite warnings that it might do.
Hence the 19th typhoon of the season, Storm Hagibis, which is forecast to hit the island of Kyushu and its capital of Fukuoka on Saturday and Sunday next, may yet veer eastwards along the south coast of Japan and hit Tokyo rather than Fukuoka. Then again, by the time you read this, it will almost be out of date!
In maintaining they had contingency plans in place and had notified both France and the USA of same, World Rugby sought to re-assure fans visiting from outside Japan that typhoons can vary in strength considerably, they are a normal occurrence in Japan and “the vast majority have minimal impact on daily life.”
Somehow that wasn’t especially reassuring. Nor was Monday’s statement, which went from having “contingency plans” to “robust contingency plans”, which suggest these might come in to place.
World Rugby said it would be “inappropriate to hypothesise” on what the contingency plans are, with changing the venue seemingly preferable to pushing the kick-off time back until Sunday.
In any event, the organisers will be loathe to postpone a pool finale, and thus have the Ireland-Samoa game declared a nil-all draw. That would leave Scotland requiring only a win of any kind against Japan on Sunday to knock Ireland out, which would be about the most anti-climactic ending imaginable to Joe Schmidt’s gilded tenure as head coach.
So failing that, were Saturday’s game against Samoa moved to a dryer venue then that might be the best scenario. The worst case scenario, save for a cancelled match, would be for heavy rain and high winds to hit Fukuoka on Saturday, but not sufficiently to have the match moved or changed.
Most disconcertingly of all, the Samoans also have a cause.
On the evidence of Italy-Canada and France-USA games, the pitch at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium is the worst at this World Cup in any case. A gluey slugfest with Samoa is the last thing this Irish team needs.
True, Ireland have a more tangible reward to play for, in that a win will secure a place in the knock-out stages, whereas Samoa are already consigned to leaving the tournament after their defeats by Scotland and Japan.
However, that creates an additional pressure on Ireland whereas Samoa’s band of brothers will be able to swing from the hip. Most disconcertingly of all, the Samoans also have a cause.
They lost their excellent number 8 Afaesetiti Amosa after he suffered a complete rupture of his MCL (medial collateral ligament) in the act of scoring a try in the 34-9 victory over Russia in their opening game in Kumagaya City.
Hooker Motu Matu’u and their Cardiff centre Ray Lee-lo were then both ruled out of the rest of the pool stages with three-match bans following the yellow cards they received in that pool opener for high hits.
Even though their winger Ed Fidow escaped a suspension for the red card he incurred for two yellow card offences in the defeat by Scotland, that did little or nothing to soothe their furious sense of injustice with World Rugby and the organisers over the Matu’u and Lee-lo suspensions.
Effectively operating with a squad of 29, as suspended players cannot be replaced, head coach Steve Jackson admitted this was stretching their resources. But his and Samoa’s bitterness over their treatment by World Rugby and the organisers was only intensified by the performance of referee Jaco Peyper against Japan.
Jackson said he was “bewildered” by some of Peyper’s decisions, which admittedly hardly makes him unique, not least the somewhat selective punishment of a crooked feed by the Samoan replacement scrumhalf Pele Cowley deep into overtime. Whereupon, Jackson noted, the Samoan replacement scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka did the exact same thing for their five-metre scrum from which Kotaro Matsushima.
Samoa want to take their resentment out on someone, anyone, and the only team left for them to do so is Ireland next Saturday. They will play with enormous pride for what is their last test against a Tier One team for goodness knows how long.
There’s another aspect to all this which suggests maybe a change in venue at 48 hours notice mightn’t be the worst outcome for Ireland.
Ten years ago, at the 2009 IRB World Championship, Ireland ended up playing Samoa in the very same Fukuoka Stadium. A squad captained by Peter O’Mahony and also containing Rhys Ruddock and Conor Murray, had beaten Argentina (16-9), lost 17-0 to New Zealand and beaten Uruguay 45-0, before losing 19-17 to Wales in the play-offs.
O’Mahony was ruled out of the Samoan game, but Ruddock reverted to number 8 while Murray was again on the bench, being deemed behind Matt Healy, since converted into a winger with Lansdowne and Connacht, in the scrumhalf pecking order. This was despite Murray landing five kicks from seven in the win over Uruguay.
Ian McKinley’s fourth minute penalty put Ireland ahead, whereupon Samoa came back to win the seventh place play-off 9-3. Just a little disconcerting.