Wednesday 16 October 2019

World Rugby avoid turf war as Irish camp downplay concerns surrounding poor state of pitch in Fukuoka

10 October 2019; Head coach Joe Schmidt checks the state of the pitch during the Ireland Captain's Run at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium in Fukuoka, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
10 October 2019; Head coach Joe Schmidt checks the state of the pitch during the Ireland Captain's Run at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium in Fukuoka, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Cian Tracey in Fukuoka

Ireland are doing their best not to add to World Rugby's mounting headaches by complaining about the state of the pitch at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, but privately at least, they are not impressed.

All 31 players, including Rob Kearney (groin) and Jordi Murphy (rib), took part in Ireland's captain's run ahead of tomorrow's clash against Samoa.

It was the first chance for the players and coaches to get a proper look at the surface, which is in desperate condition, and as soon as Joe Schmidt took to the pitch, he examined it before calling over officials.

Ireland have confirmed that World Rugby have said that the pitch is playable and it has been deemed safe, but it is likely to cut up badly.

The surface was recently relaid having come under all sorts of pressure in the previous World Cup games held at the venue.

World Rugby are already dealing with a major crisis having cancelled two games on the back of Typhoon Hagibis, and one suspects that if an Ireland player picks up an injury due to the pitch in Fukuoka, Schmidt will not be happy.

"Well, I mean, you guys are pretty smart individuals, you would have seen the pitch yourselves," assistant coach Greg Feek said after watching his players enjoy a light run-out in the sun.

"Obviously they told us and both teams know about it, we know they had to relay the pitch.

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"We went out there and 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.

"Obviously 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.

"We are trying to alleviate any concerns while we are out there but then it's just a matter of wait and see.

"The referee will be aware of it, so that's the key. All the communication is there."

From a player's point of view, Keith Earls acknowledged that the pitch did not look good, but he insisted that it is not as bad as it seemed. 

"It doesn't look great, to be honest with you but actually out there, it's flat and it's quite firm," the winger maintained.

"It doesn't feel too bad to run on. Like what Feeky said, it has been inspected and it has been deemed playable. That's the way it felt out there today.

"I suppose it's going to be the same for both teams. We just have to get on with the job."

The pitch will almost certainly cut up tomorrow, especially at scrum time and Feek admitted that he was worried about it.

"Yeah that's always my concern, not matter whether it's a training pitch or a (game).

"As Earlsy said, it's fine running around out there, passing, kicking the ball, jumping, tackling and all the rest of that stuff, but when it comes to a static, isometric position like that where there's impacts going on, you're always going to be a little cautious and ask the questions.

"That's all you can do, really, prepare our guys as best we can but also we're going to try to make sure the scrum stays up, not just for safety but for the game itself.

"Our boys will just work as hard as they can to do that at this stage."

CJ Stander may find it tricky to control the ball at the base of the scrum, but like Earls, he downplayed the concerns.

"Yeah look, I think that grass out there, it's actually good grass, it's just not stable in a few points," Ireland's No 8 added.

"We saw a few grass patches but it's actually A grade grass, I think it just needs a bit more time, but there's nothing we can do about that now.

"We've been out there and that's why we do a captain's run, to get out there and see how it is.

"But look at scrum time, I think Feeky knows that we've played in a good few grounds where the grass cuts but I think we've got a good solid base in our scrum and I feel we can keep it up and give good, solid ball to the backs.

"Again, I think as soon as you start running in space it's not that bad, so we have to make sure we keep that scrums up for the front-row, and for Feeky, and so the backs get good ball."

A World Rugby statement cited 'player welfare as the reason for relaying the surface which has cut up badly over the course of the tournament. "We are confident in the integrity of the new Fukoka pitch for Ireland v Samoa," it read.

"With stability and performance the key expectations, World Rugby and JR 2019 took the decision to re-turf the playing surafce following significant wear caused by the France versus USA match after heavy rainfall as a consequence of Typhoon 17. The primary driver was player welfare.

"The tournament has dedicated nurseries where back-up turf is meticulously prepared in line with Rugby World Cup standards. While the look of the turf may not be perfect, as would be expected with a very recent installation, we are confident that the pitch will perform superbly."      

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