WITH eight Munstermen, and two Limerick natives lining up against Russia tomorrow morning, Joe Schmidt’s men must take their remaining Pool A games as hard-hitting auditions for what’s to come in the knockout rounds.
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony is one of the few players with no rest following Ireland’s setback in Shizuoka and will look to earn retribution following his performance, where a costly mistake of his helped Japan plant the seeds for their eventual victory.
Dave Kilcoyne earns his first-ever start in a World Cup fixture after appearing as a substitute in the two openers, while his fellow Limerickman Keith Earls, whose try-saving tackle on Kenki Fukuoka secured Ireland an arguably unearned losing bonus point, will also start.
For the boys in green to reach the semi-final for the very first time, let alone reach the quarter-final, they must rectify and refine the three D’s: discipline, defence, and direction.
There was an aura of cockiness in Ireland’s breakdowns, some innate desire from both the forwards and backs to hold up the ball or try and force a turnover.
Ireland were very fortunate to scrape a losing bonus point against the hosts, nine out of the 19 points scored by Japan came from penalties conceded at the breakdown, Japan could’ve won by a far more comfortable margin if they didn’t miss two other penalties.
Respect must be shown to Russia who arguably gave Japan a harder time than we did and despite Samoa’s heavy loss to Scotland there should be no room for underestimations, in any World Cup fixture.
It’s schoolboy mistakes that dragged Ireland down on Saturday, tackler rolling away quickly when the ruck is formed, one man on top, and if there is an opening and their support is slow then, and only then, seize the opportunity.
Ireland’s backline play a very closed and tight game, their “pods of attrition” that can grind for over 40 phases has proven very effective when they attack.
However, when that shape defends, it becomes a very penetrable line for teams like Japan who struck a right balance of offload speed and wide passages that often suckered two Ireland players to one Japanese player at every pass, leaving their wingers or inside runners unmarked.
When Ireland implemented this tactical upheaval after Schmidt’s appointment, it proved massively successful in 2018, but it seems now that the players are too reliant on their coaches’ instructions that defensively they don’t have the proper reaction or decision-making skills.
Perhaps some defensive independence against Russia and Samoa will prove who will be the right men for the job at the quarter-final, if they qualify.
Jonathan Sexton’s inclusion for the Russia game was a smart decision in the long run, giving the Leinsterman game time against a less aggressive side than Samoa will hopefully not lead to any injury problems as the tournament progresses.
Despite Jack Carty’s two clever kicks in the Japan fixture, it was the passage of play and defence where he didn’t shine, both Carty and Carbery simply lacked the experience Sexton has in commanding the Irish line.
The Rugby World Cup’s schedule involves constant alterations of the matchday squads, and the number 10 has to be the cog of the backs’ machine to turn them into a cohesive unit no matter what combination of players.
There is an old Japanese proverb which says, “Fall seven times, and stand up eight,” unfortunately for Ireland; they do not have the luxury to fall any more than they already have.
If Ireland want to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy in Yokohama come November 2, then the only option that’s left is to stand up and fight until they hear the bell.
IRELAND Team to play Russia on Thursday, October 3.
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster)
14. Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster)
13. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster)
12. Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht)
11. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster)
10. Jonathan Sexton (St Mary’s College/Leinster) (capt)
9. Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster)
1. Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster)
2. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster)
3. John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster)
4. Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster)
5. Jean Kleyn (Munster)
6. Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
7. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster)
8. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Ulster)
16. Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
17. Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster)
18. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster)
19. Iain Henderson (Queen’s University/Ulster)
20. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster)
21. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Munster)
22. Jack Carty (Buccaneers/Connacht)
23. Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)