If Ireland survive Samoa storm, All Black clouds roll in fast
Rugby World Cup: odds against Ireland advancing further are lengthening
Rugby World Cup Pool A: Ireland v Samoa
Kick-off: 11.45am (Irish time), Saturday. Venue: Fukuoka Stadium. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will begin at 11.15am. On TV: Live on Eir Sport, RTÉ 2 and ITV.
If Ireland are to progress to the quarter-finals, the odds against them advancing any further have already lengthened, and that’s regardless of whether they emerge unscathed as well as victorious against Samoa in the Fukuoka Stadium on Saturday.
Were Ireland to qualify, the prospect of Japan topping Pool A has increased given the possible cancellation of their game against Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday would ensure as much. Of course, it could be that Sunday’s pool finale will be played, and that in the event of Ireland and Scotland both winning, Ireland would then advance as Pool A winners.
This would have, perhaps, the dual advantage of an eight-day turnaround and a quarter-final against South Africa on Sunday week, whereas finishing as runners-up in Pool A would mean a seven-day gap before facing New Zealand on Saturday week.
The likelier destiny for Ireland would be the latter, at which point the All Blacks would also have had a 12-day turnaround, a match less and a weekend off since beating Namibia 71-9 in Tokyo City last Tuesday.
We’ll be rolling our sleeves up trying to combat a Samoa side that has heaps of talent and will be inevitably physical
You believe Steve Hansen when he says, “If we’d had a choice, we would have rather played Friday but it wasn’t our choice, it was out of our control.”
Nonetheless, Joe Schmidt has little doubt which is the preferable lead-in to a quarter-final.
“We’ve had some games concertinaed together quite closely [and] I think it’s always an advantage to get a longer lead-in. That would be my personal opinion.
“I think it would be the opinion of any coach that you ask. I did read a little bit on Eddie Jones. He looked fairly disappointed that he was going to head off on a mini-camp and do some really good training on the Saturday and have a few beers,” said Schmidt ironically.
“So while they’re doing that we’ll be rolling our sleeves up trying to combat a Samoa side that has heaps of talent and will be inevitably physical because that’s how they play the game and that’s how the game tends to be played at the top level.”
Gregor Townsend had demonstrated scant sympathy for Ireland’s possible plight when Typhoon Hagibis had originally been forecast to hit Fukuoka, venturing: “The rules are the rules. The Ireland game cannot be postponed, it has to be played that day. If it cannot be played that day then it’s two points for each team.”
Hence, there doesn’t appear to be much sympathy for Scotland now that their campaign may end with a cancellation.
“There’s no certainty of that so we’re not really contemplating it, to be honest. I have sympathy for Conor [O’Shea] if that’s his last involvement with the Italian team.
“Some of the players that I’d have huge respect for, having prepared teams trying to combat them for the last 10, 12 years, guys like Parisse, Ghiraldini, I’m sure they were incredibly excited, because you don’t tend to get that many shots at the All Blacks. They are the benchmark. I’m sure the Italians are disappointed.
“I’m sure the French are disappointed. I’m just disappointed that it didn’t happen in the last World Cup and we didn’t have to play the French and we might have had a few more bodies available for the quarter-final,” noted Schmidt dryly, in reference to a pool finale four years ago which cost Ireland Seán O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony and Johnny Sexton for their quarter-final against Argentina.
“But we can’t control the weather and people’s safety is paramount,” he added, which is of course the bottom line.
As to whether a clash with a Samoan team who, if they do go down, will die with their boots on, has the capacity to wreak similar damage, Schmidt said: “Any game does, I guess.
The most interesting aspect of Ireland’s selection against Samoa is the back-row permutations
“I do think that the French and ourselves were unbeaten in the pool the last time and so it was very much who was going to get the top spot in the pool, and so that was very competitive as well, and sometimes those things just happen the way they do. Any game can end up being attritional.
“I watched Wales and Fiji last night. Fiji had a very outside chance mathematically of qualifying but I think sometimes [that’s] when teams can be at their most dangerous, particularly when teams who have the sort of talent that Fiji and Samoa do.”
Back to more prosaic matters, and the most interesting aspect of Ireland’s selection against Samoa is the back-row permutations. In his brief stints to date off the bench against Japan and as a starting Man of the Match against Russia, Rhys Ruddock is the back-rower to miss out on the 23 despite the others having had heavier workloads thus far.
According to Schmidt, Peter O’Mahony, who is on the bench, and Rob Kearney, who sits this game out, and Ruddock were “a little bit slow to pick up during the week”.
Of their back-row juggling, Schmidt said: “We’re trying to share the load, to be honest. We’ve tried to rotate the back-row a little bit after the six- and five-day turnarounds. Some guys had to double up and they’ve had more involvements than what we had anticipated.”
Noting that Josh van der Flier has been freshened up, Schmidt said: “He’s obviously going to have his hands full with a back-row containing TJ Ioane and Jack Lam and Chris Vui, who I think is massively underrated.”
“He’s captained Samoa a number of times, he’s very good aerially and I think from a back-row perspective it’s going to be physical, it’s going to be fast, it’s going to be combative. I like to think we’ve got our guys freshened up and ready for that battle.”