Schedule deals Ireland a good hand but other teams are not so fortunate
A number of things have hit home through the opening nine days of this World Cup but one stands out above all others and that is the luck, or should I say unfairness, of the draw for the weaker teams.
We hear a lot about player welfare and the need to manage players in what is becoming an increasingly physical game. Well, where was the player welfare for Japan when they had to take on Scotland just four days after their win over South Africa, or when Fiji had to back up from their opening game against England by playing Australia five days later? Is it any surprise that Japan were yet again magnificent against Scotland and were trailing just 12-7 shortly after half-time only to fall away? Is it a coincidence that their No 8 Amanaki Mafi, a player who has really announced himself on the world stage, was injured in that second half?
Fiji too gave it their all but could not sustain themselves against Australia. No player should be expected to train and sacrifice for four years only to arrive and not be given a fair crack at the competition - and also to open themselves up to injury.
True, other sides have had to do this but New Zealand playing just days apart have the luxury of practically changing their whole starting 15 without compromising quality and with respect to Namibia the challenge they faced mid-week after their physical encounter with Argentina wasn't exactly going to define their competition.
The way this RWC has started it promises to be the best ever and will be remembered by rugby and sports fans alike for that once-in-a-lifetime match between South Africa and Japan, but we need to address the exposure of players to games of massive intensity without proper windows to recover or we are doing them and the competition a disservice.
Having said that, you still work with the hand you are dealt. As we have said many times, Ireland have been dealt a great hand - it is now up to us to make sure we play it right. Unlike Stuart Lancaster, who made changes for England's defining moment in their pool against Wales last night, changes on which he has almost put his reputation on the line in the eyes of the English media, Joe Schmidt goes into today's game safe in the knowledge that he can almost do a New Zealand on it and rotate his squad, making multiple changes and still be more than good enough to play a Romanian squad who had to line out during the week against France. Again where is the fairness in that?
What will Joe learn today? Not a lot, but it is a massive day for one player who not so long ago would have been defined as an untouchable but now may struggle to get in the side for when it really matters next week against Italy, and beyond. Tommy Bowe needs to remind everyone of his class. What we will have to see from Tommy is an incredible work rate and energy off his wing both sides of the ball; scoring tries will not be good enough, he will have to show that he has the exuberance and energy as if it were his first cap.
The other interesting aspect for me will be the officiating of referee Craig Joubert. He took control of the France-Italy game, which turned out to be a turgid affair and in which he gave 34 penalties but really never changed player behaviour through sanction.
I am sure he will be on the ball today and won't be waiting that long before he brandishes a yellow card. The only way to stop players transgressing is by disciplining them.
Romania disrupted France at the breakdown and stopped them getting any flow but they were so illegal in doing so that it wasn't funny. I am sure that one way or another this will have been fed in and I expect to see an Irish performance that will take advantage of the wide spaces of Wembley.
IRELAND TEAM FIXTURES 2018
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We could see Ireland put more than the 50 points they put on Canada. I don't think today will change Joe's mindset on what his best team is; great coaches know their best team at this stage of a competition and he will know what he wants out of next week.
We have the draw and we have the scheduling all in our favour, we now have to go out and do the easy bit and deliver but also make sure we learn the lessons as well and work to have no repeat of teams having to play games of rugby four days apart in the biggest competition of them all.
Sunday Indo Sport