Tuesday 22 October 2019

Schmidt's focus is on weathering Samoa storm

Signing off pool with victory and clean bill of health are the goals for Ireland coach

Bring to pass: Josh van der Flier in action during training in Fukuoka. Photo: Sportsfile
Bring to pass: Josh van der Flier in action during training in Fukuoka. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

For Joe Schmidt and his team, it is business as usual in Fukuoka amidst the chaos elsewhere in Japan. The Ireland head coach and his players have a job to do to keep control of their World Cup destiny and they are determined to finish it against Samoa tomorrow.

Questions about Super Typhoon Hagibis dominated the agenda at the coach's team announcement yesterday and while he couldn't help but engage in the aspects of the storm that will affect this team, the New Zealander battled to remain match-focused.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

After he was finished, he assembled the players designated for media duties and gave them an impassioned pep-talk. Whatever he said, none of them seemed keen to speak about the typhoon and the disruption it has caused.

Despite match cancellations elsewhere and the prospect that Japan v Scotland will be declared a draw, the Ireland coach wants his players to achieve the result that takes all other factors out of the equation.

A bonus-point win ensures they make the last eight, regardless of whether the Yokohama fixture takes place.

Cancelled

If that game is cancelled, then second in the pool is the best Ireland can hope to achieve, meaning they will face the All Blacks in a knock-out game for the first time tomorrow week.

That's the goal.

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"For us, the next 48 hours' build-up is our full focus," the coach said.

"We can't really afford to be distracted by any other matches that may or may not be played.

"We've just got to make sure we get our preparation right and then the performance on the back of that preparation is as good as we can make it to make sure that whatever destiny we do manage to attain it is including another game and we get to stay on for another week whether it's to play the All Blacks or whether it's to play South Africa."

Whoever they play, the opposition will have a big advantage in having extra time to prepare. Schmidt (pictured) referred to the criticism of his team's displays and the importance of the number of training sessions needed to produce a big performance.

"It probably didn't suit us that we had three games in 11 days," he said.

"I think one of the things that gives us confidence, just to answer that question, is a week where we get three trainings and we can get a bit of rhythm into a game because once you hit your rhythm I think that's when we are at our best.

"We trained once before we played Russia and made 11 changes. It's one of those things, those are the imperfections that occur in these sort of tournaments and even within the draw there are always different turnarounds.

"We would say that we've managed to get a good lead-in to this one and that will hopefully give us the confidence to go into Samoa and do a good job.

"Depending on what we can manage to do this weekend if we do qualify, we'll get maybe two or three trainings in, depending on how soon we can get up to Tokyo if we qualify because those logistics become a little bit of an issue now as well, particularly if there is damage or trains aren't running or airports are affected. It has thrown things up in the air a little bit."

New Zealand, England and France, he said, now have an advantage ahead of the last eight.

"When you've had a long lead-in like we've had and we've had some games concertinaed together quite closely I think it's always an advantage to get a longer lead-in. That would be my personal opinion," he said.

"I think it would be the opinion of any coach that you ask. I did read a little bit on Eddie Jones.

"He looked fairly disappointed that he was going to head off on a mini-camp and do some really good training on the Saturday and have a few beers.

"So while they're doing that we'll be rolling our sleeves up trying to combat a Samoa side that has heaps of talent and will be inevitably physical because that's how they play the game and that's how the game tends to be played at the top level."

As Gregor Townsend pleaded with World Rugby to make sure Scotland's match goes ahead, Schmidt was asked if he had any sympathy for the Scots who could be heading home without getting a fair crack of the whip.

"There's no certainty of that so we're not really contemplating it to be honest," he said. "I have sympathy for Conor (O'Shea) if that's his last involvement with the Italian team. But it's a fantastic result, it's the first time they've drawn with the All Blacks, but I do think it's really disappointing for him.

"Some of the players that I'd have huge respect for, having prepared teams trying to combat them for the last 10/12 years, guys like (Sergio) Parisse, (Leonardo) Ghiraldini, I'm sure they were incredibly excited, because you don't tend to get that many shots at the All Blacks.

"They are the benchmark. I'm sure the Italians are disappointed.

"I'm sure the French are disappointed. I'm just disappointed that it didn't happen in the last World Cup and we didn't have to play the French and we might have had a few more bodies available for the quarter-final.

"But we can't control the weather and people's safety is paramount."

Schmidt yesterday recalled Robbie Henshaw to a strong starting XV, with Tadhg Beirne named on the blindside and Peter O'Mahony and Joey Carbery among the replacements for Saturday's match.

The Samoans, who can call on star back Tim Nanai-Williams despite concerns over his fitness, are a dangerous proposition, according to the Ireland head coach.

Dangerous

"I watched Wales and Fiji last night. Fiji had a very outside chance mathematically of qualifying but I think sometimes when teams can be at their most dangerous, particularly when teams who have the sort of talent that Fiji and Samoa do," he said.

"A guy like Tim Nanai-Williams or Alapati Leiua, those sorts of guys, if they've got nothing to lose then they're going to bring a game with plenty of variety, plenty of athleticism. I think a guy like (Kane) Leaupepe was incredibly impressive in the last game.

"TJ Ioane, Jack Lam, Seilala Lam, the hooker, has been really impressive. You could go through a whole list of ball-players that they have that make them a massive threat.

"So, for us, hopefully, primarily we can get the result and the secondary factor would be if we could come through unscathed that would be a really successful Saturday for us."

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