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Gordon D'Arcy: Under the radar is best Rugby World Cup approach

Yokohama on Sunday is cup rugby, meaning squeeze the life out of your opponent

Small island, big dreams. There's nowhere to hide on this green rock. Six hours cruising in his vintage mustang can have Jacob Stockdale beside Conor Murray in the sand dunes of Derrynane.

Instantly recognisable heroes, even when they do switch off the players are a random encounter away from being snapped into Instagram technicolour. People earwig your quick bite to eat or coffee pitstop.

No heroes in Chiba. Joe's oasis. Nothing to do but train, swot on the opposition, rest, repeat. The lads will be thankful for these days of peace and quiet (also safe in the knowledge that Yokohama is calling). But for most of this tournament the Irish boys can blend in with all the other tourists. Sonny Bill Williams has no such luxury, nor does Eben Etzebeth. Even Johnny Sexton won't be picked out of a Tokyo line-up.

This is important. There is simple pleasure to going for a wander in a new city without a tap on the shoulder. Unmasked but anonymous.

Back home, Irish people are pretending that they haven’t lost the run of themselves.

“Well,” says the regular man, “after Twickenham the pressure is off.”

Don’t mind him. Everyone believes we are even better placed now to do something special. That sneaky, lull-the-rest-of-the-world-into-a-false-sense-of -security attitude is everywhere. We know there’s a massive performance in the team. We can’t help but wonder how many.

The Irish supporter expects. When it comes to rugby we are all from Mayo. We drown ourselves in hope. You know how this goes. We’ll beat the Scots, Japan and quite possibly the Blacks or ’Boks, only to run head-first into. . .

Only time will tell.

Nod and wink

Anyway, point is, I am beginning to see it in every Dublin dweller’s nod and wink. “We are ready, Gordon, yeah?”

We are ready to lose the run of ourselves. And sure, that’s what living is all about (that and being a responsible parent, of course).

The expectations of such an isolated nation can be suffocating. The Grand Slam in 2018 and beating New Zealand twice has been lodged in everyone's psyche

Injuries to Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw and Rob Kearney are manageable. Overall, Ireland are in good shape. The other 28 players are tuning up for the best few weeks of their sporting lives. (Will Addison may see Japan yet, as Joe is possibly forced into making three changes with the back three shaping into Larmour, Conway and Stockdale.)

I am not worried anymore. The players are in Japan, away from the extrinsic pressure that’s been mounting back home, feeling strong after a torrid summer under Jason Cowman’s relentless fitness regime, deepening the search for every athletes sole desire: genuine form.

The expectations of such an isolated nation can be suffocating. The Grand Slam in 2018 and beating New Zealand twice has been lodged in everyone’s psyche. If this happens and that happens, you never know. It’s a quiet hum at the moment but it’s getting louder.

The Ireland team felt the heat in 2007 whether we knew it or not. Sonia O’Sullivan knew all about it. The entire weight of a small nation bursting with a hope that translates into demanding expectation.

I remember these pre-tournament days. Training is tapering off now. Declan Kidney always talked about striking a balance in life. Get out of the rugby environment whenever you can.

Under the radar

We nailed our build-up to the 2011 World Cup. Everyone except me had a brilliant time in Queenstown. I tore my calf the day before we flew to New Zealand. I remember Eanna Falvey rushing me into the Santry for treatment. I had all these markers to check off to be fit in time for the tournament.

Flying under the radar is the only way to go. The Irish fans, while a joy to behold, will be all-consuming from now on. And then there’s the Scots, who must throw all they are worth at Sunday’s game.

The masterplan is tangible now. Tired bodies against England took an awful psychological pounding – hence all those missed tackles you’d never see during the season – but physically the boys were where Cowman and Joe wanted them; not ready but getting there brick-by-brick. The cement wasn’t dry.

Now, with Scotland in their sights, all that torture has been moulded into something resembling peak performance. Not the end-of-season form that will be needed later on, but what you'd see in April for a Champions Cup quarter-final.

I was worried back in August, I really was, but maybe I got a little caught up with what we were seeing. In August. Twickenham mattered at the time but not before and not now.

Study, nap, train. Joe's regime is a savage, demanding one but my God the rewards are sweet

One of the big guns will botch their preparation. Bet on that. I doubt it will be Cheika’s Wallabies. Or the All Blacks (you always need to beat them, they won’t ruin it themselves).

I know a few of the Irish thoroughbreds recently pulled up – Carbery, Earls, Henshaw and now Kearney – but I still feel Ireland, New Zealand and Argentina (my outside bet) are best primed to thrill in Japan.

England and South Africa have looked the strongest pre-tournament but how much energy have they used up? These are my gut feelings today. Who really knows?

Making a statement

We’ll learn more over the weekend than any theory I have put on these pages in the past four years of Wednesday pontificating. Either South Africa or New Zealand will come into view with the French or Pumas making a statement on Saturday.

To win the World Cup demands seven victories. No team has won it with six. In 2019 that requires 30 plus above average players – and about five or six all-timers – hitting their straps in the Pool stages.

There’s a body or two in the provincial squads who will have to shake off jet lag before this race is run. You’d think Addison has the bag packed sitting by the hall door.

Luck is as big a factor as anything but you can make your own. Players have a brief for Scotland but individuals will have very specific roles that need learning for Japan, Russia and Samoa too. Study, nap, train. Joe’s regime is a savage, demanding one but my God the rewards are sweet.

Ideally Scotland will try to force the counter attack when it is not on and get severely punished. Their preparation has been all about catching defensives before they can set

Gregor Townsend’s team always play with tempo. That’s who they are (and why their final Pool A game with Japan should be a stunner). The challenge for Ireland on Sunday is to ruin this philosophy. Structure the living daylights out of Scotland.

Here's to Conor Murray, box kick until the seams burst. Sexton will also put boot to plenty of ball. Kick cleverly for field position and don't dare offer Stuart Hogg a chance to scan the pitch for the current version of Mike Ross (sorry Rossy, but he was always looking for you). Blair Kinghorn is another lethal weapon on the counter attack.

Remove these options.

Mince them up front

Eoin Reddan tells a story about the shortest possible Wasps team meeting before a big European game. Cut down D'Arcy in midfield (the other centre was injured), give nothing to the back three – not so much as a single stray ball – and mince them up front. Shaun Edwards turned and walked out of the room.

We were Scotland once upon a time. Leinster from 1998 to about 2008 could beat any team when the mood took us. We were also susceptible to an Italian club side turning us over. We never knew which team would turn up. We honestly didn’t know sitting in the changing room if we would play beautiful rugby or get walloped.

That is Scotland in 2019; shut down Finn Russell, Hogg and Kingholm and Pool A becomes about their final outing against Japan.

The beautiful game never prevails in places like Welford Road or Thomond Park. Yokohama on Sunday is cup rugby and cup rugby is about squeezing the life out of your opponent. Townsend will have put Ireland’s kicking game “under the microscope” – as Joe likes to say – so the chasers under Murray’s kicks will be blocked. England nailed this tactic last February.

Ideally Scotland will try to force the counter attack when it is not on and get severely punished. Their preparation has been all about catching defensives before they can set.

In the recent warm-up, when the French came up with a high-line speed, Russell couldn't get them going. Sunday should be a blueprint for Ireland in 2020 under Andy Farrell. Break Scotland in half with as uncompromising a defensive display as we have ever seen. That means James Ryan, Josh van der Flier and Bundee Aki must be the names rolling off everyone's lips.

And if that’s the case, Jacob’s mustang will be cruising in downtown Yokohama.

Here we go, here we go.

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