Wednesday 23 October 2019

Mick Galwey: 'Shizuoka was just another sorry day in our Rugby World Cup history'

Japan's Kenki Fukuoka. Photo: Getty Images
Japan's Kenki Fukuoka. Photo: Getty Images

Mick Galway

In one disastrous second half of rugby, Ireland threw away all the momentum of the last two years, of being the No 1 team in the world, of beating Scotland last Sunday.

Japan deserved the win – they were better than Ireland. But Ireland made mistakes that handed this gripping contest to the willing hosts.

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The biggest mistake was not scoring from a line-out as we attacked the Japanese posts in the 50th minute.

Ireland were 12-6 ahead at the time. Get seven points there and we take the wind out of the Japanese sails and we kick on in search of our own bonus point. Even three points from a drop goal or penalty would have been fine for Ireland.

Joe Schmidt’s teams pride themselves on being ruthless once you get the ball in hand in the other side’s 22. Here Rory Best sent the vital throw into home hands.

I come back to this again and again. But once half an hour of a Test has gone, all Rory seems to be able to do is find whoever is standing at the front of the Irish lineout.

Ireland captain Rory Best (c) reacts dejectedly after the Pool A defeat to Japan in Shizuoka. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Ireland captain Rory Best (c) reacts dejectedly after the Pool A defeat to Japan in Shizuoka. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Picking Rory to be captain for this World Cup, at 37, for a competition to be played in sultry conditions, was pure madness.

It’s clear that Joe does not trust Sean Cronin, Niall Scannell, or any other hooker, to play for him, for a change would have been made by now at this most vital of set-piece.

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If we are to somehow beat New Zealand or South Africa in the quarter-final, our set-piece return must be 100% – anything less won’t get the job done against the Southern Hemisphere giants.

We will get to those quarter-finals. Two bonus point wins over Russia and Samoa will do the trick. That will give us 16 points, Scotland can only get 15.

But all our momentum has been lost. Now instead of just winning the last two Pool matches, they become 'must-win with four tries' encounters.

Joe Schmidt said after the game that he could have used Johnny Sexton, that it was about trusting the squad and rotating it and being very confident that Jack Carty could do the business.

But if is about rotating the squad, why did Ireland go with the same eight forwards as he'd played six days previously against Scotland?

Joe took Ireland on a tour to Japan a few years ago, to be ready for this World Cup.

To sample the hotels, the food, the culture, but above all to prepare to come to terms with the heat and humidity that would suit other countries, but certainly not Ireland.

Then the draw for the competition gave us the host nation, the one team who would not be bothered about sweating after a 50-yard walk, never mind during a bruising international rugby match.

Japan players celebrate victory at the end of the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A win over Ireland
Japan players celebrate victory at the end of the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A win over Ireland

It was obvious from about the 30th minute on, that Ireland's forwards were sweating profusely, that their tackles were beginning to slip, that they weren't pushing Japan's eager forwards back. It was all too much to ask of our lads.

I'm sure the Irish coach would love to have that selection call back in cold, clear, hindsight. The thing is, all sporting coaches are paid to get things right in foresight.

Now with Jack Conan injured, it seems a replacement will have to come out – and probably play against Russia on Thursday.

Lads like Tadhg Beirne and Jean Kleyn, remember him – the guy there was so much fuss over before the tournament – will have to get a start.

As will our replacement front row, Joe can’t keep going back to the well there. Among the backs, it will be a question of whether the likes of Sexton, Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw are good to go.

We’ll beat Russia, they are the poorest team in the tournament and wouldn’t even be in Japan but for other European countries using ineligible players in their qualifiers.

But now we have to be very careful of the last match against Samoa, where we’ve got to get five points from the game, while playing as few of our front-liners as possible as a quarter-final looms.

AFP_1KQ741.jpg
Japan's lock James Moore (r) is tackled by Ireland's scrum-half Conor Murray (l) during the Pool A clash

It's the momentum – the feel-good factor that is gone now.

Instead of it being a contented camp it is now one with huge pressure on it, pressure to avoid the horrors of the 2007 World Cup in France.

There is a huge job of work to be done by all our coaching staff and senior players, to pick everyone up and get going again.

I’m not worried about who we play in the World Cup quarter-final.

To me, the way the knock-out draw will surely work out, it was always the case that Ireland would have to beat New Zealand, England and South Africa to win this World Cup.

All the pool games would sort out is the order in which we would have to do it!

But beating those three teams was a possibility back in the happy days. Not any more, not now.

Every Irish training session and match seems to be another knock, another call on the thinning resources of a group that is already without Dan Leavy and Sean O’Brien.

History tells us that it all seems too much for Irish rugby to get it right at a World Cup.

We just can’t seem to crack it. And Shizuoka was just another sorry day in our RWC history.

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