Pitfalls aplenty in Ireland’s World Cup 2019 schedule

Joe Schmidt’s side faces Scotland in their opener and then Japan just six days later

Perhaps not surprisingly, the schedule could not have been hand-picked more favourably for the hosts, who along with Ireland and Scotland, are in Pool A.Photograph: Reuters

Perhaps not surprisingly, the schedule could not have been hand-picked more favourably for the hosts, who along with Ireland and Scotland, are in Pool A.Photograph: Reuters

 

The planning already started with last June’s two Tests in Japan but the 2019 World Cup in the same country came more sharply into focus with Thursday’s scheduling of matches, and in this Ireland could certainly have been dealt a kinder hand. Pitfalls there are aplenty.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the schedule could not have been hand-picked more favourably for the hosts, who along with Ireland and Scotland, are in Pool A, whereas Joe Schmidt’s squad must contend with a less than helpful order of matches and turnarounds between games.

Japan kick off the 48-match jamboree on Friday, September 20th, against the Europe 1 qualifiers, who more than likely will be Romania, in Tokyo. Romania lead the final Europe qualification from Spain, who they visit next February.

Ireland will then need to hit the ground running against Scotland two days later in Yokohama on Sunday, September 22nd, with the game kicking off at 8.45am Irish time. But whereas Japan have an eight-day turnaround before meeting Ireland in their next game on Saturday, September 28th – with an 8.15am kick-off Irish time and surprisingly fixed for Shizuoka rather than Tokyo – Schmidt’s men will only have six days between these two pivotal opening games.

By then, Ireland will already have a fair idea of their destiny in the pool stages and, hopefully, beyond. Even then though, the scheduling has dealt them an unhelpful hand, with a five-day turnaround before their next game against, most probably, Romania, on Thursday, October 3rd, in Kobe, at 11.15am Irish time.

Front-liners

Necessity being the mother of invention, that already looks like a game in which Ireland will need to delve into their squad, before restoring front-liners after an ensuing nine-day turnaround for their pool finale, most likely against the play-off winners in Fukuoka, on Saturday, October 12th. With Samoa set to face Europe 2, which would be Spain on current standings, in the play-off, that therefore will almost certainly be Samoa.    

The alternative would mean a 16- or 17-day turnaround before the possible quarter-final. Here, the teams advancing from Pool A will meet those from Pool B, which feature the heavyweight duo of inaugural winners and reigning back-to-back champions New Zealand and two-time winners South Africa.

The two southern hemisphere heavyweights meet in Yokohama on the opening Saturday, September 21st, as do Australia and Fiji in Pool D, and France and Argentina in Pool C. New Zealand and South Africa have never met in the pool stages before and the All Blacks have never lost a pool match.

Presuming the holders maintain that record, then in all probability the winners of Ireland’s pool, would meet the Springboks in the quarter-finals on Sunday, October 20th, in Tokyo (whereas the runners-up would face the All Blacks) with an 11.15am kick-off Irish time.

Were this the case, Ireland would have an eight-day turnaround before that game, whereas the Springboks would have a 12-day break since concluding their pool matches.

Furthermore, recall how Argentina lost their opening pool match at the 2015 tournament against New Zealand and then had three handsome wins in a row against Georgia, Tonga and Namibia, before targeting their quarter-final against Ireland in Cardiff.

Similarly, after facing the All Blacks on the opening weekend, South Africa would then face the Africa 1 qualifiers, most likely Namibia, Italy and then the repechage winner, which two years ago was Uruguay, before the quarter-finals.

Pool D would seem to hinge on the clash between Australia and Wales in Tokyo on the second weekend, Sunday, September 29th. After that opening weekend joust between France and Argentina, England lurk in the long grass, with helpful turnarounds between games, before meeting Argentina in Tokyo on Saturday, October 5th and France seven days later in Yokohama.

Off-field battle

Thursday’s scheduling, along with the off-field battle between South Africa, France and Ireland to host the 2023 World Cup, ought to certainly add some intriguing sub-plots to the clash between Ireland and South Africa in the Aviva Stadium tomorrow week – just four days before the World Rugby Council vote on that three-way battle to host the 2023 tournament.

The Springboks arrive on the back of extending New Zealand to a 25-24 win in Cape Town four weeks ago. With Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber back in the fold, they’ll assuredly maintain an upward graph over the next two years.

In other respects too, the draw does not look quite as favourable for Ireland as was generally perceived to be the case when first made. Not alone will much of Ireland’s fate hinge on that pool opener against Scotland, but Japan – who sensationally beat South Africa two years ago – will be markedly improved on last June when Ireland (who admittedly were also missing their Lions’ contingent) won the two Tests 50-22 and 35-13.

Head coach Jamie Joseph has enlisted John Plumtree on to the Brave Blossoms’ coaching ticket and has brought back several players who were unavailable in June, such as centres Harumichi Tatekawa and Timothy Lafaele, winger Lomano Lava Lemeki and openside Shunsuke Nunomaki.

Japan played a World XV last week and on Saturday host Australia at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium – the first time the venue for the 2019 Rugby World Cup final will host a Test match. The squad then travels to France where it will play Tonga on November 18th at Stade Ernest Wallon in Toulouse and France a week later at the U Arena in Nanterre, the new state of the art home to Racing 92 on the outskirts of Paris.

As an aside, despite having won the recommendation and the vote by the World Rugby Council to host the 2019 tournament, World Cup organisers are struggling to both select training bases and to drum up public awareness and interest in Japan in advance of ticket sales.  

RWC 2019: Ireland fixtures (all fixtures Irish time):

POOL A

Sunday September 22nd, Ireland v Scotland, Yokohama, 8.45am
Saturday September 29th, Ireland v Japan, Shizuoka, 8.15am
Thursday October 3rd, Ireland v Europe One, Kobe, 11.15am
Saturday October 12th, Ireland v play-off winner, Fukuoka, 11.45am

RWC 2019: Full fixtures

September:

20th: Pool A — Japan v Europe 1, Tokyo Stadium, 1145.
21st: Pool D — Australia v Fiji, Sapporo Dome, 0545.
21st: Pool C — France v Argentina, Tokyo Stadium, 0815.
21st: Pool B — New Zealand v South Africa, Yokohama International Stadium, 1045.
22nd: Pool B — Italy v Africa 1, Hanazono Stadium, Osaka, 0615.
22nd: Pool A — Ireland v Scotland, Yokohama International Stadium, 0845.
22nd: Pool C — England v Tonga, Sapporo Dome, 1115.
23rd: Pool D — Wales v Georgia, City of Toyota Stadium, 1115.
24th: Pool A — Europe 1 v Play-off winner, Kumagaya Rugby Grounds, 1115.
25th: Pool D — Fiji v Americas 2, Kamaishi Memorial Stadium, 0615.
26th: Pool B — Italy v Repechage winner, Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka, 0845.
26th: Pool C — England v USA, Kobe Misaki Stadium, 1145.
28th: Pool C — Argentina v Tonga, Hanazono Stadium, Osaka, 0545.
28th: Pool A — Japan v Ireland, Shizuoka Stadium, 0815.
28th: Pool B — South Africa v Africa 1, City of Toyota Stadium, 1045.
29th: Pool D — Georgia v Americas 2, Kumagaya Rugby Grounds, 0615.
29th: Pool D — Australia v Wales, Tokyo Stadium, 0845.
30th: Pool A — Scotland v Play-off winner, Kobe Misaki Stadium, 1115.

October:
2nd: Pool C — France v USA, Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka, 0845.
2nd: Pool B — New Zealand v Repechage winner, Oita Stadium, 1115.
3rd: Pool D — Georgia v Fiji, Hanazono Stadium, Osaka, 0615.
3rd: Pool A — Ireland v Europe 1, Kobe Misaki Stadium, 1115.
4th: Pool B — South Africa v Italy, Shizuoka Stadium, 1045.
5th: Pool D — Australia v Americas 2, Oita Stadium, 0615.
5th: Pool C — England v Argentina, Tokyo Stadium, 0900.
5th: Pool A — Japan v Play-off winner, City of Toyota Stadium, 1130.
6th: Pool B — New Zealand v Africa 1, Tokyo Stadium, 0545.
6th: Pool C — France v Tonga, Kumamoto Stadium, 0845.
6th Pool B — South Africa v Repechage winner, Kobe Misaki Stadium, 1115.
9th: Pool C — Argentina v USA, Kumagaya Rugby Grounds, 0545.
9th: Pool A — Scotland v Europe 1, Shizuoka Stadium, 0815.
9th: Pool D — Wales v Fiji, Oita Stadium, 1045.
11th: Pool D — Australia v Georgia, Shizuoka Stadium, 1115.
12th: Pool B — New Zealand v Italy, City of Toyota Stadium, 0545.
12th: Pool C — England v France, Yokohama International Stadium, 0915.
12th: Pool A — Ireland v Play-off winner, Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka, 1145.
13th: Pool B — Africa 1 v Repechage winner, Kamaishi Memorial Stadium, 0415.
13th: Pool C — USA v Tonga, Hanazono Stadium, Osaka, 0645.
13th: Pool D — Wales v Americas 2, Kumamoto Stadium, 0915.
13th: Pool A — Japan v Scotland, Yokohama International Stadium, 1145.
19th: Quarter-final (winner Pool C v runner-up Pool D), Oita Stadium, 0815.
19th: Quarter-final (winner Pool B v runner-up Pool A), Tokyo Stadium, 1115.
20th: Quarter-final (winner Pool D v runner-up Pool C), Oita Stadium, 0815.
20th: Quarter-final (winner Pool A v runner-up Pool B), Tokyo Stadium, 1115.
26th: Semi-final (winner quarter-final 1 v winner quarter-final 2), Yokohama International Stadium, 0900.
27th: Semi-final (winner quarter-final 3 v winner quarter-final 4), Yokohama International Stadium, 0900.

November:
1st: Bronze final, Tokyo Stadium, 0900.
2nd: Final, Yokohama International Stadium, 0900.

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