Tuesday 15 October 2019

Neil Francis: 'Ireland cannot show any mercy - the team Schmidt has picked could beat Japan by 40 or 50 points'

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Scotland at the International Stadium in Yokohama, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Scotland at the International Stadium in Yokohama, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

Well, are we snowflakes or rugby players?

Joe Schmidt has named near enough his strongest team save for medical intervention.

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A six-day turnaround is nothing for these players and anybody who thinks that two hit-outs in that space of time will compromise how the team perform is dreaming.

In the 1995 World Cup, Ireland played New Zealand on May 27 in Johannesburg, on May 31 we played Japan in Bloemfontein.

We travelled back to Jo'burg and played Wales on June 4 and had to wait an absolute eternity until June 10 before we played the French in Durban.

I played in all four matches and not only did we have to cope with the heat but we also had to deal with the altitude. Everybody just got on with it.

It was interesting to note that several players were suffering from cramp in the last quarter in Yokohama.

The ball is in play an awful lot more these days and the speed of the game is far quicker. As a result, sometimes players do cramp up but once they are rehydrated everything is fine. Can they deal with the schedule and the fatigue? Of course they can.

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Schmidt is absolutely correct in putting out the strongest side available because the Japanese are more than tricky opponents and it is nothing to do with paying respect to the hosts, it is to do with maintaining momentum.

If Ireland do not produce another clinical and efficient performance it takes away a bit from their efforts last week.

The bottom line here, and I would put a sizeable wager on it, is that Japan will score a good deal more than three points and they'll be far more dangerous with ball in hand than Scotland.

Japan, having watched them play in the Pacific Nations Cup, which they won with some elan, play rugby the way it is supposed to be played.

This match will be more for the vegans than the carnivores, but I suspect it will be highly entertaining.

I would not be surprised to see Japan score two or three tries despite Ireland's resolve defensively in their first engagement of the competition.

If ever there was something to be divined from the Scottish game it is that you act and behave like the company that you keep. That performance was a mirror image of the personality of the coach.

Schmidt will have been purring from that performance and – very unlike him – in the post-match interviews could barely restrain himself from smiling as he gave his analysis.

The coach's main aim is to keep his side on track – any diminution in their performance will be seen as a sign of weakness.

If you look at the sides Ireland aspire to be, it is always noteworthy to see how they perform in the pool stages once the one difficult game per pool is completed.

The All Blacks, when they go out against minnows, are relentless and try to put as many points on their hapless opponents as they can without any sense of how much damage they do to these weaker nations.

On that basis Ireland should, irrespective of how unpopular it is, try to put as many points on Japan as they can. Sorry, but we are here to do a job. It's a big night for Jack Carty; he has to ensure that his side don't let up in attack.

The pity is that Japan play rugby the way it is supposed to be played. They don't have big hulking packs, they don't play an attritional game, they don't engage in cynicism or professional fouling and they try and play in the correct spirit of the game.

There is a reason why they play the game the way that they do – it is because they have no choice.

You try and slog it out in the trenches with the big European teams or the SANZA sides and you are going to get thumped. Skill and technique are everything.

I always watch women's golf with a critical eye in the sense that they don't have the power game that the men have. They can't rip the ball 350 metres down the fairway but their technique, I find, is sometimes far superior, a much smoother action because they don't have the same power.

This is what the Japanese do – they realise that the only advantage they have is speed. They are quick-ball addicts and their passing, as it has to be, is accurate and fluent.

I played the Japanese twice in two World Cups and you wondered when the hell they would ever kick the bloody ball. They don't kick to touch, they keep the ball in play for long periods of time, and their fitness and skill levels can cause problems for anybody.

Most teams think they can bully them and are surprised at how resilient they are and, despite their lack of size, how willing and brave they are in contact.

You might think that you can scrum Japan to death or go to your lineout maul and maul them to death.

This also is a game where Ireland's one-out runners should profit against smaller men but let's see if that transpires.

Ireland will, I feel, subdue the Japanese and it is quite possible that they could put 40 or 50 points on the hosts, but it is important that they do that and that they maintain what they started against the Scots.

That can be difficult to do but by picking near enough his best team Schmidt has at least taken the right course of action.

That is the problem with these World Cups – a bit like those Marvel superheroes, the difficulty is what to do between telephone booths.

An entertaining game awaits. You get your rest against Russia!

Ireland team to play Japan on Saturday – R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, C Farrell, J Stockdale; J Carty, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; I Henderson, J Ryan; P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Reps: S Cronin, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, T Beirne, R Ruddock, L McGrath, J Carbery, J Larmour.

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