Rob Kearney and Keith Earls are ruled out after training injuries joining Robbie Henshaw in the stand for Ireland’s opening pool game against Scotland. Should we be worried?
Japan beat Russia, as expected, in the opening match of the competition, earning the bonus point for four tries along the way. But the performance will not give either Irish or Scottish camps too much to worry about.
The game was riddled with mistakes and poor tackling. The pace of Ireland and Scotland will rip apart both of these defences. Depending on how Samoa turn up to the event, the likelihood is that the Celtic nations are going to top the group with tomorrow’s game simply deciding who will top the group.
We’ll know later today, after South Africa take on New Zealand, who the quarter final for finishing first in our pool will be; the loser will probably take that position. When the teams start tomorrow they will be facing a stark choice.
Russia’s set piece was well drilled but they were awful once Japan started to build up phases patiently. Japan have a dangerous back three, and will score tries, but they don’t look smart enough in defence and were exposed a few times by the Russian attack.
|Cian Healy||1||Allan Dell|
|Rory Best (Captain)||2||Stuart McInally (Captain)|
|Tadhg Furlong||3||Willem Nel|
|Iain Henderson||4||Grant Gilchrist|
|James Ryan||5||Jonny Gray|
|Peter O’Mahony||6||John Barclay|
|Josh Van der Flier||7||Hamish Watson|
|CJ Stander||8||Ryan Wilson|
|Conor Murray||9||Greig Laidlaw|
|Jonathan Sexton||10||Finn Russell|
|Jacob Stockdale||11||Sean Maitland|
|Bundee Aki||12||Sam Johnson|
|Garry Ringrose||13||Duncan Taylor|
|Andrew Conway||14||Tommy Seymour|
|Jordan Larmour||15||Stuart Hogg|
|Niall Scannell||16||Fraser Brown|
|Dave Kilcoyne||17||Gordon Reid|
|Andrew Porter||18||Simon Berghan|
|Tadhg Beirne||19||Scott Cummings|
|Jack Conan||20||Blade Thomson|
|Luke McGrath||21||Ali Price|
|Jack Carty||22||Chris Harris|
|Chris Farrell||23||Darcy Graham|
With Rob Kearney’s withdrawal we are going to be denied a continuation of the fascinating battle against his opposite number Stuart Hogg. It has been heating up over the years at both club and country.
I feel less comfortable with Larmour at fifteen. He brings some sparkling, attacking flair to the team, his dancing feet find gaps that should not be there, but he does not have Kearney’s defensive awareness. Nor is he as secure under high ball; expect him to be targeted and tested thoroughly.
Andrew Conway’s replacement of Keith Earls is less of a worry. He looked in good form during the warm up matches and earned his right to start. In particular, he is a high-ball expert, and may lend a lot of support for Larmour in the back three.
The rest of the team picked itself. Barring the few injuries, it is the strongest team we could have fielded.
If the game is anything like the Six Nations game, Scotland will be as dangerous as ever. They threw the kitchen sink at us earlier this year. A five minute period at the end of the first half is particularly memorable. The Irish defence held them out with many phases of play ending in a knock-on.
Ireland scored a nice try that day after Carberry, who came on for an injured Sexton, made a break and beautiful pass out wide. We also scored from a mix up in amongst the Scottish wingers. But other than that, we did not show a lot of ability to break through.
If our Celtic cousins had made less mistakes, then we surely would have been in trouble. It ended up 13-22 to Ireland. A decent victory in a stadium from which we have often returned from with nothing.
My expectations for tomorrow is that the Irish defence will again be depended on to withstand penetration both in the centre and out wide. They will try and stretch us whenever they have the ball. They have a habit of getting into their stride more quickly than Ireland, so that first five minutes will be key.
Ireland, when they get the ball, will try to play the game in the Scottish half. There they will play patiently and build up phase after phase to try and expose some mismatches. The set piece will be a key element of the Irish attack. I expect, hope rather, that Joe has a few cards up his sleeve for breaking down his opponents.
Even if it is a close game, I hope to see Jack Carty get some time at number ten. His kicking can allow us to dominate territory, so if we have a lead, even a slender one, into the last ten or fifteen minutes, his entry could help us finish out the game.
I also think that his cross-field kick can unleash our back three on the Scottish, with Conway and Stockdale both accomplished at collecting. With Larmour running support lines, there should be a try on offer from this mode of attack.
The kicking battle will be huge tomorrow with Sexton and Murray both needing improvement on their showings so far this season. Kick loosely to Hogg and his lieutenants, Maitland and Seymour, and you get punished. But the opposite is also true for Larmour and co.
It should be an exciting match. We may not want to win — neither Springbok nor All Black is an appealing prize in the knock out rounds. But a win will give some comfort, especially with a short turn-around for the Japanese game next Saturday. Leave nothing to chance.