Ireland must put Saturday’s defeat to Japan behind them and destroy the true minnow of the pool, Russia, who are on zero points from two games.
We should not be afraid of this opposition, but they did have a great start against Japan in the opening match, scoring an early try from a set piece. It noticeably shocked the host nation and it took them some time to get into their stride.
We should expect a similar game plan from the Russians, but I don’t believe our defence will be truly tested. It is true that their set piece is well drilled, but they made far too many mistakes in their first two outings to cause too many doubts about this Irish side.
We do need to secure a bonus point, however, to keep as much pressure on both Scotland and Japan. Ireland need to secure the maximum ten points from our final two games, so that we force the final game of the pools, Scotland against Japan, to be a fight for pool qualification.
If things go our way, a Scotland win might push Japan into third place, and if the Brave Blossoms succeed, then they will top the group with Ireland in the runner up position.
For a start, we need a bonus point tomorrow. It should not be too much of a stretch. Johnny Sexton is back. The team has had a few more changes, but if you saw it in isolation, you would not ask too many questions about the selection.
Scannell on for Best makes sense. The Irish captain has done well so far, surpassing most estimates to his fitness and commitment, but now deserves a day off. Should we progress to the quarter finals, his presence at peak energy levels will be required.
|Dave Kilcoyne||1||Andrei Polivalov|
|Niall Scannell||2||Evgeny Matveev|
|John Ryan||3||Kirill Gotovtsev|
|Tadhg Beirne||4||Andrey Garbuzov|
|Jean Kleyn||5||Bogdan Fedotko|
|Rhys Ruddock||6||Anton Sychev|
|Peter O’Mahony||7||Tagir Gadzhiev|
|Luke McGrath||9||Dmitry Perov|
|Johnny Sexton (Captain)||10||Ramil Gaisin|
|Keith Earls||11||Denis Simplikevich|
|Bundee Aki||12||Kirill Golosnitskiy|
|Garry Ringrose||13||Igor Galinovskiy|
|Andrew Conway||14||German Davydov|
|Rob Kearney||15||Vasily Artemyev (Captain)|
|Seán Cronin||16||Stanislav Selskii|
|Andrew Porter||17||Valery Morozov|
|Tadhg Furlong||18||Vladimir Podrezov|
|Iain Henderson||19||Andrey Ostrikov|
|CJ Stander||20||Evgeny Elgin|
|Joey Carbery||21||Sergey Ianiushkin|
|Jack Carty||22||Roman Khodin|
|Jordan Larmour||23||Vladimir Ostroushko|
Jordi Murphy joins the squad and goes straight into the team. He was unlucky, in my opinion, not to make the initial touring party. Unlucky indeed is Jack Conan, who has had to bow out of the tournament with an ankle injury.
The pressure is high now. Anything less than a comprehensive victory will kill any chance of getting momentum from the pool stages. We desperately need a mistake free game where we maximise every scoring opportunity.
Johnny Sexton mentioned during interviews that it is better to have poor games during the pool stages than during the quarter finals. True, I’d have to agree. But as commentators keep reminding us, losing a pool game is a good predictor that you will not lift the trophy at the end of the tournament.
I also recall such arguments being used during the disastrous 2007 World Cup in France. Ireland eased past Namibia only to flounder against the other minnow in the group, Georgia. In truth we were lucky to escape that day with a 14-10 win. The subsequent comprehensive losses to Argentina and France which knocked us out had been forewarned by the poor run up.
So while it’s true that we are not fully out of it yet, and that we have too relatively easy (touch wood) games ahead of us to close out the pool, the confidence has been drained from the team, like the pints of sweat the guys have had to expend while in the cauldron.
Japan’s climate may be the biggest obstacle in front of Ireland. If we get through tomorrow with the required four-try win, I would be happy. Then we have twelve days to recoup for the show down with Samoa. One step at a time.
Tomorrow’s spread is 52 points. Under normal circumstances, say for example if the game were to be played in Dublin, I think this would be a reasonable spread. Ireland need to get back to the level that they had against Scotland, and keep it up for eighty minutes, or they will struggle to put fifty points on Russia.
Then again, the well of experience is deep in this side. Many playing tomorrow have had a taste of beating the best teams in the world. It’s time for the cold, professional, ruthless streak to come out. Let’s put the Russians to the sword.