Wednesday 23 October 2019

Grounds for concern: Ireland must weather Samoa storm but pitch conditions could see turf war

 

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt inspects the pitch at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium where his side face Samoa this morning. Photo: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt inspects the pitch at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium where his side face Samoa this morning. Photo: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Ireland's crucial final World Cup pool clash against Samoa will go ahead as planned this morning (11.45) and although Joe Schmidt's men appear to have avoided Typhoon Hagibis, they have concerns of their own at the poor condition of the pitch in Fukuoka.

Ireland can guarantee a quarter-final spot by securing a bonus-point win over Samoa, which would lessen the anxiety levels over the next 24 hours.

Chris Farrell is able to fit a rugby ball under a loose sod of grass during yesterday’s captain’s run.
Chris Farrell is able to fit a rugby ball under a loose sod of grass during yesterday’s captain’s run.

At the end of a week in which World Rugby are in the spotlight after the cancellation of two pool games, a third may be on the way if Scotland don't get a chance to take on Japan tomorrow.

A last-minute decision on whether or not that vital game goes ahead will be made this morning. Scotland have already threatened to take legal action against the game's governing body if their game is cancelled, while Italy boss Conor O'Shea warned that the fixture must be treated in the same manner as the Azzurri's was.

Should the game be called off and Ireland beat Samoa, Scotland would be eliminated from the tournament, with Japan finishing as pool winners ahead of Ireland, regardless of today's result.

That would put Schmidt's men on course to meet New Zealand in the last eight on October 20, with the hosts set to meet South Africa.

After another bizarre day at the World Cup, Japan coach Jamie Joseph slammed those who he felt undermined his side's efforts by suggesting the Brave Blossoms would prefer the easy way out and have the game cancelled, which would result in a 0-0 draw and two points each.

Away from Tokyo, where one of the worst storms in years is due to batter the city, Ireland were dealing with issues of their own, albeit on a lesser scale.

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After arriving at the Fukuoka Stadium for yesterday's captain's run, the players and coaches got a first chance to check out the recently relaid surface. They were not impressed by what they found.

The pitch is in atrocious condition and will certainly cut up during today's game. World Rugby have, however, stated in an official statement that they are "confident that the pitch will perform superbly".

Schmidt examined the surface very closely and although the Ireland head coach was not up for media duties, it was left to his assistant Greg Feek to address the concerns.

"You would have seen the pitch yourselves," Feek said. "We just had an inspection and we have been given all the assurances by World Rugby that it's safe to play on and that's all we can ask for.

"I don't want to predict anything or cause any more controversy at this stage. We will just try to back the players and trust that the pitch will do its job."

Schmidt will be hoping that his side get the required five points against Samoa and, in the process, come through the game without any casualties.

That may not be enough to overtake Japan at the top of the table, unless Scotland get a chance to beat the hosts, but CJ Stander insisted that Ireland cannot have any complaints if that situation arises.

"It's about what we can do to give ourselves a chance to get into the quarters and take another opportunity," the No 8 said.

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