LONG before a ball was kicked in this World Cup, there was massive anticipation about what skills the players would bring with them from the training paddocks to the manicured surfaces of Japan.
In a game where it’s vital to increase the appeal to a wider television audience, all that is truly happening is it is turning into a watered-down version of rugby league because the pressure coaches are under to win.
Going on the evidence to date it seems that all the preparations have gone into turning players into bodybuilders and gym monkeys who can’t even pass the ball off their good side, not to mention their bad one.
Maybe things might change when we hit the knockout stages but apart from a few countries, the hosts and some of the South Sea islanders, nothing seems to have changed. This is especially prevalent in Ireland’s case and is not going to change now.
I don’t want to ramble on too much but if Ireland make it past the challenge of Samoa, they will be returning home after their quarter-final. Be that New Zealand or South Africa.
It is simply not possible to continue to do the same thing repeatedly and expect teams to not come up with ways of dealing with it.
In the past, Ireland have strangled the life out of their opponents by inching forward and building phase after phase which normally ends up in them being awarded a penalty. This dull and mundane way of winning is out-dated, predictable and will see Ireland crash out at their now customary World Cup quarter-final appearance.
Defences are just too big and too organised, and it doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to work out Joe Schmidt’s game-plan. All you need is a few forwards who have zero respect for their bodies and are willing to throw themselves at Ireland’s ball-carriers and the only option Murray or Sexton have left is to kick the leather off the ball.
Samoa have nothing to lose by going out tomorrow and as Jack Charlton would say “giving it a lash”.
Their only victory thus far has been against the brave but shockingly poor Russians who are the lowest-ranked team in the tournament. Just like Fiji and Tonga, Samoa’s traditional game is built around the sevens version and their first instinct is to attack. Their skill levels are well above any Irish player and their impulsive reaction is to run whenever they get the ball in their hands. However, they lack structure and their kicking game is poor.
Upfront where all games are won or lost, Ireland will find it difficult in the opening exchanges and they will look to keep the ball well in behind the Islanders’ bulky pack via the boot of Sexton and Murray. The last thing Ireland want to do is engage in a street fight.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will this game be won in the first half. Ireland must first earn the right to score tries by moving the Samoans all over the field and tiring them out.
Where Schmidt will get some good return by taking them on physically is in the channels between 10, 12 and 13.
Presuming that Aki Bundee and Robbie Henshaw are going to start as Ireland’s midfield pairing, I think this very direct running duo will be used to secure territory in behind the all-important gain-line from most first phase plays. It’s what happens after that is where Ireland usually fall-down and run out of inventiveness.
As long as Ireland keep a strong grip on this game and do not let it deteriorate into a loose and free-flowing tie, they should be able to come up with the four tries they need.
Many columns have been penned on the importance of Sexton’s contribution and it is probably a bit unfair towards the rest of the squad. No one man will ever have the capacity to win a game on his own.
Unquestionably the Leinster man is a key figure and yes, he would be first on the team sheet. However, placing this much reliance on just one man can fracture a squad and Schmidt needs to be very cautious about how he deals with all this attention on just one player.
If Ireland are going to have any chance of breaking new ground by getting beyond the quarter-finals, they will need every single player, medic, kit man, water boy, and member of their coaching ticket to be singing off the same hymn sheet and there must be no animosity between those who are on the field and those who are sitting in the stand. I’d be disappointed if guys were not gutted by their exclusion but for the greater good of the squad it is imperative, they bite the lip and remain supportive.
This is a game where some of the younger members of the squad need to step forward and shoulder some of the burden that the likes of Sexton, Murray and Peter O’Mahony have been carrying and I call on our second rows to stand front and centre.
It is not good enough for these giants of men to be looking like lost sheep when you know what hits the fan. I have no doubt that there will be times in this game where not everything will be going to plan and unless our so-called powerhouses are prepared to lead from the front, we will struggle as we have done during the duration of this campaign and I include the warm-up games in this.
It’s ok for the red mist to develop once you control it and channel all the ferocity that comes with it in the precise direction.
Ireland to limp on and just about make it to the knockouts.
As long as Ireland keep a strong grip on this game and do not let it deteriorate into a loose, free-flowing tie, they should be able to come up with the four tries they need.