Rugby World Cup: Player welfare no longer a viable option for Ireland
Demands of tournament taking a heavy toll on Joe Schmidt’s panel strategy in Japan
Tadhg Beirne: “Look, I’m always an option at six and Joe knows that.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The much-lauded IRFU player welfare policy has been shelved. Garry Ringrose has clocked up 240 minutes in 11 days, finishing all three Pool A matches against Scotland, Japan and Russia.
Robbie Henshaw, the Ireland management assures us, is raring to go despite a hamstring tear suffered on a dodgy Chiba surface sometime around September 14th.
Considering Chris Farrell only takes full contact this morning (Tuesday) in Shirouzuooike Park, following a concussive blow against Japan on September 28th, Bundee Aki and Henshaw are expected to start alongside Johnny Sexton against Samoa this Saturday.
That’s presuming Sexton is fit to play the 60 minutes Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has promised to give the 34-year-old game time against Samoa, and that’s presuming the game goes ahead as scheduled what with the typhoon blowing up from the Philippine sea.
Such enormous levels of punishment were foretold but Schmidt always hoped Sexton would play more than 97 minutes before the final group game, so he could be rested come the quarter-final.
“That’s definitely not an option,” said incoming head coach Andy Farrell. “No, this game is super important to us. We’re fully in.We’re after the best performance of the competition.”
Jordi Murphy is highly unlikely to recover from a popped rib so that forces Ireland to choose from four already over exposed backrowers.
Peter O’Mahony, like Ringrose, started all three matches but the Munster captain only boasts 160 minutes due to a failed HIA against Scotland and he was replaced against Japan after a sub-par 54 minutes.
CJ Stander started the first two games but the last available number eight is up to 214 minutes due to Murphy’s early injury against Russia. Josh van der Flier and James Ryan (180 minutes) were excluded from the 35-0 defeat of Russia so they are certain to return. As is O’Mahony and Stander unless Schmidt redeploys Tadhg Beirne (120 minutes, 40 off the bench) to the blindside flank. The in form Rhys Ruddock can play number eight.
“Look, I’m always an option at six and Joe knows that,” said Beirne.
Everyone in rugby knows the Kildare man’s effectiveness on the flank since he was shortlisted for European Player of the year in 2018 following a string of outstanding displays in a hybrid role for the Llanelli Scarlets.
Referees have not been rewarding Beirne of late with Wayne Barnes sin binning him against Scotland while he was also penalised by Angus Gardner for an attempted steal against Japan.
“Not for me to decide. It was close to the line. It’s still a yellow at the end of the day. I came on in the second game and got stung for another penalty there but I thought I did bring a bit of energy and then I thought I did reasonably well against Russia. I’ve been slowly hitting my form a bit and hopefully I can step it up again this week if I’m called upon. It definitely won’t stop me going after ball if the opportunity arises.”
It’s all but certain Beirne will be called upon.
Ryan and Henderson (142 minutes across three games) are the primary locks but it would be a huge surprise to see Jean Kleyn rewarded for his anonymous performance against Russia as the South African registered just four carries for zero metres gained and made seven tackles (missing one).
Even if Kleyn gets the nod, Beirne must be a strong candidate to cover backrow with O’Mahony (surely) or Stander stood down until a monumental quarter-final the following weekend in Tokyo.
That said, Farrell framed Saturday as the start of Ireland’s knockout section at this World Cup when asked if anyone can be wrapped in cotton wool.
Player welfare is no longer option. World Cups are hell.
Ireland World Cup – Top minutes of action:
Garry Ringrose – 240
CJ Stander – 214
James Ryan – 160
Peter O’Mahony – 160
Josh van der Flier – 145
Iain Henderson – 142
Rory Best – 138
Conor Murray – 137
Jack Carty – 123
Tadhg Beirne – 120
Rob Kearney – 117
Rhys Ruddock – 106
Bundee Aki – 100
Johnny Sexton – 97
Jacob Stockdale – 160
Andrew Conway – 160
Keith Earls – 160