Alison Miller: 'To find their flow and stand a chance, Ireland must stop being so rigid'
It's time to be ruthless. There's no way around it: Ireland need a proper performance against Samoa, a bonus-point win and a passage into next weekend's quarter-final.
But they need more than that. They need to get their confidence back and this is the perfect opportunity. Self-doubt has crept in over the past few weeks and that psychological turmoil has a draining effect on energy. That's shown in their performances, but the only way to get rid of it is with a ruthless performance. They need conviction, execution and, most of all, flow. Flow is so important in all sports and it's important today that Ireland find it again.
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I want to see these highly-skilled players back their instincts and not be so rigid. Yes, they need to control the game but they need to flexible too, to see opportunities to exploit the weaknesses that Samoa will inevitably present. Right now they're not doing that like other top-tier nations and it needs to change.
It's notable how Joe Schmidt's plans have altered for this game. I expected before that he'd rest key players ahead of next weekend but it's pretty much a full-strength side.
Johnny Sexton has had a problematic World Cup: very little game-time, injury and then being brought in to captain against Russia, a game we never thought he'd play in. Ireland need to play him today but he also needs this game for his own sake. If we reach the quarter-final he needs to be firing on all cylinders.
Teams know if they can get at Johnny they can get at Ireland, so it's crucial he gets through this game injury-free and the Samoans don't damage a player who never shies away from the physical nature of the game.
We need him to be right next weekend. Hopefully Joey Carbery can come in and show us what he is capable of because he, too, will be important if we want to progress.
It would be a disaster for this team not to expect the threat that Samoa bring. They won't – and no modern-day rugby team would ever admit to it anyway – but Samoa are playing for pride and that's dangerous. They want to end this World Cup on a high and the Samoans, like the Irish, take great pride in representing their country and particularly their families. There is no pressure on them, the complete antithesis of Ireland, and they'll look to cause a shock and prove a point to many who don't rate them.
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But Ireland will have no excuses if this isn't an easy win. Schmidt can't talk about short turnarounds, travel, humidity, recovery or typhoon distractions. The players have had ample time off both physically and psychologically and they've been at their base for more than a week.
That should have done wonders for the players as the World Cup is hard on both the body and mind. It's time for excuses to be turned into actions. It's time for the handling and the breakdown to improve, along with the timing of runs which seems to be slightly off. That's having a detrimental impact on our attack.
Getting Earls and Stockdale on the ball and playing more expansively would be brilliant, but if Schmidt and his team persist with his low-risk, unattractive pressure game then they better look after their breakdown and gain field position. If we want to play the pressure game we need to look after the handling and avoid turning over the ball.
I would love to see a different style but if we must persist we need to cut down the errors and win the penalty count today.
Samoa is a small island but they will throw the kitchen sink at us and play for each other and their families. They're a physical side with notably big guys and the inclusion of Tim Nanai-Williams will be a major boost – a quality player with creative capabilities and a good defensive game.
Today is a big chance for Robbie Henshaw in his first appearance at the World Cup and he needs to show us why he's one of Joe's most important players – a quality defender who will add to our attack. Tadhg Beirne has a chance to impress and he should step up to the mark.
In the last two games, Ireland started well in but they need to maintain that level and be more clinical when they reach Samoa's 22 – take the chances when they are on.
They can't leave anything to chance today as Samoa have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Amid all the doubt, it's important to remember just what this Irish team has achieved under Schmidt. Over the next week they have a chance to enhance their legacy if they perform. If they don't, they risk losing it.