Rugby World Cup: Ireland now on a collision course with South Africa
Six-day turnaround before Japan may be cutting it fine for Aki and O’Mahony
Ireland’s Andrew Conway in action with Sean Maitland of Scotland during their 27-3 victory in International Stadium, Yokohama. Photograph: Craig Mercer/Inpho
After a vintage All Blacks performance 24 hours earlier in the same venue, this was vintage Ireland. Comparatively less thrilling, it was, nonetheless, typically efficient and they produced their best 40 minutes to lead Scotland 19-3 at the break. Whereupon, they even brought the rain to help them close out a bonus-point victory.
The 27-3 win in what looks like a Pool A-defining Celtic derby leaves Ireland well set to plot their route to a quarter-finals, and if each side wins their remaining matches, that will be against South Africa in exactly four weeks’ time, on October 20th.
One problem with World Rugby packing, or over-packing, so many defining pool matches on the opening weekend is that the die has been fairly well cast between now and at least the last round of pool matches.
Conor O’Shea will have to rotate when playing Canada with a four-day turnaround after beating Namibia yesterday, and they will then die with their boots on against South Africa. But, realistically, an Ireland v South Africa quarter-final now looks a short odds-on bet.
It’s going to be a long month.
Joe Schmidt would never admit as much, but he’ll assuredly have one eye on a potential quarter-final with the Springboks, and will be starting to plot accordingly, certainly if Ireland beat Japan.
“I think those physical demands are right up there,” he said of the pressure placed on squads, before observing of the All Blacks’ win over South Africa: “I thought it was a heavyweight contest last night. We might be light heavyweight or middleweight, I don’t know, but it was a super game last night. Maybe slightly different conditions, but South Africa were bristling and the All Blacks were brilliant at times with those two tries they got.
“It’s a very different situation from the World Cup last time, where we were trying to build our way through the pool knowing France was the highest-ranked opponent we were going to have and it was going to be a real mountain to climb into that game.
“We may be able to manage the squad, you might think, but I know that watching Japan, that first half they played against England [last November], they went through the Pacific Nations Cup unbeaten. They’re a dangerous team and if they get some tempo, we might be on the back foot. We’ve got to take it step by step.
“We won’t be talking too much about South Africa. If we maybe can get past Japan we’ve got Russia and Samoa. Hopefully, at that stage we can potentially manage players.”
The one cloud on Schmidt’s horizon after this win is the six-day turnaround before facing the hosts Japan next Saturday. Hence, this may be cutting it particularly fine for Bundee Aki and Peter O’Mahony after both failed HIAs during the first half of this win, although both were symptom free before undergoing HIAs 1 and 2.
Johnny Sexton also passed on the place-kicking duties in the first half to Conor Murray due to some unspecified “tightening” issue, possibly in his groin or hamstring, with Murray also assuming most of the kicking from hand in an impressive return to form.
With Robbie Henshaw recovering from a hamstring strain, it certainly leaves Ireland’s midfield looking a little thin, with Chris Farrell, who replaced Aki, and Garry Ringrose set to resume where they left off here. Tadhg Furlong received treatment before being replaced as well, but Schmidt maintained he and Sexton were “fine”.
“If we don’t have guys that we think are 100 per cent then it was great what happened this week to a degree because Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Joey Carbery, they’re all training well. So we’ve got them, hopefully, on a bit of an upswing for Japan.
“You never take anything for granted. We’ll only get two trainings on Tuesday and Thursday because we’ll travel down to Shizuoka tomorrow. That will take up a fair bit of the day and by the time we get there, we’ll rest up and get into training on Tuesday.”
With Jack Conan temporarily replacing a bloodied Josh van der Flier and then O’Mahony, despite all the comings and goings Ireland established a stranglehold on the Scots and never really relinquished it.
“I was delighted with all 23. One of the things that sometimes happens is you build a lead and lose a bit of cohesion when guys start filtering in and out. I didn’t really detect that that happened.
“Conditions made it really difficult for us to construct things but we got the only try of the second half when a lot of those replacements were on. The scrum that we turned over with the replacements was really impressive and I know Besty was in the middle of that but he had a couple of new partners either side of him with Andrew Porter and Dave Kilcoyne. So that was really pleasing.
“But also that front foot we got off to,” added Schmidt in reference to the sixth-minute try by the outstanding James Ryan which set Ireland on their way. This followed a galloping break through the heart of Scotland’s defence by Iain Henderson as this duo’s dynamic performance showed they could become an exceptional second-row partnership.
“It just takes a bit of pressure off in the game. It means they have to chase it a little bit, they have to take a few more risks than we do. At the same time, I was happy with the number of risks we did take.”
Kicking off his fourth World Cup with a try-scoring, 80-minute shift, Rory Best commented: “It was a good start for us. I think when you start the tournament against a team like Scotland, you have a lot of nerves, you know you have to play well, you know you have to start well.
“I think, from the forwards’ point of view, for us to get a couple of tries in tight is pleasing but I think we know it’s just the start and we need to get better. It’s nice to have played in four World Cups now but ultimately from a personal point of view, that means nothing. That goes to the side. It’s about making sure that we get better as a collective as we go along.”
Nevertheless it would seem that the 37-year-old skipper will be rested up for the Japanese game rather than be put through two matches in a seven-day period.