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Brendan Fanning: 'We've seen nothing to suggest last-eight success - just the way Schmidt would want it'

With key players in fine fettle, Plan B is not a knockout option

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Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, left, with Josh Van der Flier

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, left, with Josh Van der Flier

SPORTSFILE

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, left, with Josh Van der Flier

If you take this stage four years ago as a reference point then Joe Schmidt would gladly opt for what he has now, even if he climbed into his bunk on Saturday night not knowing exactly who his team will play in the World Cup quarter-final.

Wind back to the Millennium Stadium in 2015 and the emotion of a top-class win over France was tempered by its price: the loss of four front-line players, including Johnny Sexton and Paul O'Connell, for the quarter-final against Argentina.

This time around his most valuable leaders - Sexton and James Ryan - are in decent nick for what comes next. Across the axis of senior players, from captain Rory Best to scrumhalf Conor Murray, the coach is looking at men who are available for duty.

That, you would hope, will include Robbie Henshaw. When he completed 80 minutes against Wales in the final warm-up game for this World Cup you wouldn't have expected any issues between there and the opener against Scotland, yet he was hamstrung until this game in Fukuoka.

Hopefully no repeats ahead of the quarters then.

So, all Schmidt has to worry about is who he is playing next, and whether the way his own team are performing is good enough to take Ireland to a new destination in our woeful World Cup history.

Nothing we've seen since the Scotland game would incline turf accountants towards making Ireland even money against New Zealand.

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Bundee Aki leaves the field after receiving a red card. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Bundee Aki leaves the field after receiving a red card. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Bundee Aki leaves the field after receiving a red card. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

 

That won't bother him unduly. Schmidt is so sure about everything he does that he remains mostly unaffected by what happens outside the team bubble. And what does resonate with him is not to a point where he's sweeping all the paperwork off the table and telling the lads it's time to start again.

This was Tier 1 looking after Tier 2 without breaking sweat. Its best bit for Ireland - aside from the excellent form of Jordan Larmour - was the air of calm after Bundee Aki was red carded.

He would be blessed to feature again in Japan. Ireland hardly missed a beat. For Samoa it presented a difficulty: go after Ireland in areas where they had been compromised by losing a man or just keep on with the biff. They went for the latter.

That suited Ireland nicely. They defended very well and narrowed their attack to suit the fact that they were down to 14. Even so, it's possible to bring variety to a low-risk game.

So the build-up to CJ Stander's try in the second half - Ireland's sixth, so they were well past the point of any concern - felt like the longest punishment beating in history with only one weapon used: pass, carry, ruck.

At this point Schmidt was in preparation mode, mindful of keeping players in one piece for what's coming next weekend, and equally cautious about offering any scraps that their opponents might turn into a party bucket. We get that.

But the downside of producing stuff for the first time on the big day is that it hasn't been road-tested.

And we're not expecting Ireland to over-complicate their short game, to raise its risk factor by a raft of passes in tight spaces.

There will be no change there before the weekend. And Ireland fans will pray that neither is there a shift in the well-being of Johnny Sexton.

It was hard pre-tournament to imagine his importance being elevated to a new level, but that's what's happened.

His input to just about every detail is pivotal.

So he will be dispensing grief for the number of balls put down and the number of mistakes made.

Conor Murray, too, looks like he's happy with what he's doing. The set-piece was very good on Saturday, so if that much remains the same then Ireland will be in with a shout in the quarter-final.

Getting the game plan right, though, will only be the half of it.

Sunday Indo Sport