Tuesday 22 October 2019

Rúaidhrí O'Connor: 'If Ireland struggle against Russia, they may as well just pack up and go home'

Defence coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile
Defence coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

There can be no more slip-ups for Ireland in Japan. If they struggle against Russia, then they might as well pack up and go home.

With Johnny Sexton at the wheel, the 1/1,000 favourites should negotiate their way through this fixture with relative ease.

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The Tier Two teams are playing their part at this World Cup with the United States pushing France closer than they'd like, but this match should not be a contest.

Russia are the lowest-ranked team at this tournament and, while Ireland have fallen to fourth, they should be far, far too good for these opponents.

You'll be aware by now that the conditions within the Kobe Misaki Stadium are less than ideal.

There were 30 handling errors when England beat the US and that went up to 35 on Monday night when Scotland beat Samoa there.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Ireland needed ice baths to bring their body temperatures down after yesterday's training session and the airless arena will be worse when it's packed with fans today.

So, the going will be tough for both teams and Ireland assistant coach Andy Farrell challenged his players to adopt a "no excuses mentality" when dealing with the environmental challenge. If Russia drop the ball, he wants a green jersey diving on top of it and he wants to see a response to Saturday's bitterly disappointing performance in defeat to Japan.

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"Because of the humidity in the stadium the ground sweats as well," he said. "So, the conditions are not what we're used to but we've played in the rain quite a bit as well. It's something we have to cope with, something we have to adapt to.

"We know the stats from the last two games that have been here... it's being able to adapt to that.

"How do we adapt? We make sure there's a no excuse mentality. There are going to be errors, we need to make sure that our defence shapes up pretty quickly to anything that is turned over."

Farrell referenced his own experience of coming back from pool defeat in 2007, as well as the France response to losing to Tonga in 2011 and South Africa's run to the semi-final four years ago as positive examples for Ireland to follow. Despite the Shizuoka defeat, there remains a confidence behind the scenes that this squad have enough to win a quarter-final even if that belief is not shared by the majority back home.

"They (defeats) are not ideal but if you use them to your advantage they can be powerful," he said. "After a couple of days of understanding the reasons why, we're in good spirits, back on track and ready to prove a point."

Whatever point they want to prove, Russia is not the place to do it.

The Bears have been game opponents against Japan and Samoa, but they lack the quality to get the scores on the board and their defence fades as the game goes on.

They have a familiar face in the moustachioed Vasily Atemyev at full-back, while tighthead prop Kirill Gotovtsev and openside flanker Tagir Gadzhiev have impressed.

The fact that both came to rugby late, having excelled at different sports, tells a tale of where rugby ranks in the Russian consciousness and how big a leap it is to taking on one of the best teams in the world.

That, despite the doom and gloom that surrounds Ireland right now, is what Schmidt's side are and they need to puff out their chests and play like it today.

The All Blacks showed yesterday how to approach these games and Ireland must have the same level of ruthlessness.

They have the players.

We haven't seen an all-Munster tight-five since 2009 when Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan and Paul O'Connell and the modern version is charged with providing a platform for Luke McGrath and Johnny Sexton to play off.

Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose provide a nice balance in midfield, while the back three of Andrew Conway, Keith Earls and Rob Kearney combine a try-scoring threat with a strong aerial game.

Ireland's back-row will have their hands full with their abrasive opponents, but Rhys Ruddock, Peter O'Mahony and Jordi Murphy are no shrinking violets and will relish the contest.

Schmidt will be smart about his tactics with a much-changed team and slippy conditions.

Expect Ireland to go to the air early and often, kicking to contest and looking to force errors. As Farrell said, it's all about capitalising.

When they arrived in Japan and particularly after they beat Scotland this looked like a nice easy couple of weeks before the real business got under way.

Saturday's loss has upped the ante and there is a need to secure five points from this game to stay in control of their own destiny.

That is surely a given. Ireland performed poorly and lost last week, but they have not fallen that far.

There is no redemption on offer today, only a chance to build momentum as Schmidt's side look to bounce back from a damaging defeat for the fourth time this calendar year.

Their next loss will probably be their last of 2019, but it won't come today.

Verdict: Ireland 57 Russia 7

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