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Schmidt happy Ireland head into QF 'unscathed' after 2015 toll against France

Bundee Aki’s red card was a blow but Schmidt feels Ireland have good cover in the midfield.

Image: Adam Davy

REWIND TO THE World Cup four years ago and reflect on where Ireland stood at this point in the competition.

Joe Schmidt’s team had just qualified for the quarter-finals, but the toll had been heavy in their final pool-stage win over France.

Captain Paul O’Connell’s hamstring had been torn clean off the bone, while another leader had fallen when Peter O’Mahony’s ACL gave way against les Bleus.

ireland-v-samoa-pool-a-2019-rugby-world-cup-fukuoka-hakatanomori-stadium Schmidt is pleased to have a fully-fit squad this time around. Source: Adam Davy

Tactical lynchpin Johnny Sexton had taken a battering at the hands of the French and would be ruled out of the quarter-final against Argentina before the week was out, while powerhouse flanker Sean O’Brien was facing into a ban for lashing out at Pascal Papé. 

Factor in that defensive leader Jared Payne had already fractured his foot and it’s clear that Ireland were limping into their quarter-final.

Four years on, Schmidt had the genuine luxury of removing key men Sexton, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best, Conor Murray, James Ryan, Cian Healy, and Robbie Henshaw from harm’s way before the end of Ireland’s quarter-final-clinching pool win over Samoa.

While Schmidt did lose inside centre Bundee Aki to a red card, with a ban surely to follow, his squad appears to be in very fine health ahead of next weekend’s knock-out clash with either New Zealand or South Africa.

Tomorrow’s final Pool A fixture between Japan and Scotland will decide who Ireland will take on, with a World Rugby inspection first thing on Sunday morning in Japan set to decide whether the game goes ahead. An announcement is expected around midnight Irish time.

If the game is cancelled, Ireland will take on the All Blacks, but if it goes ahead and Scotland win, Schmidt’s men will be up against the Boks in the quarter-finals. 

While Schmidt doesn’t yet know who his team will be facing, he’s positive that Ireland are going to be in better nick this time around.

“We’ve certainly got more bodies available and that’s a positive for starters,” said Schmidt after his side’s impressive 47-5 win over Samoa in Fukuoka, where they had to play with 14 men for 50 minutes after Aki’s sending off.

ireland-v-samoa-pool-a-2019-rugby-world-cup-fukuoka-hakatanomori-stadium Tadhg Furlong scores a first-half try for Ireland. Source: Adam Davy

“There’s a bit more uncertainty this time than last time. Once we had played France [in 2015], we knew were playing Argentina – there was more certainty about what we could do to prepare for that.

“It’s a bit awkward because we have to wait for tomorrow’s final game of the pool and find out then who we will be playing.

“We’ve got a better body count, though. I would say that we have 31 fit players, as far as I know.

“If we lose one of those [Aki] through any consequence of the judiciary, I do feel that Robbie Henshaw was back today and played very well and we’ve got Chris [Farrell] and Garry [Ringrose], so we have some cover there.

“So, if we do lose Bundee… last time losing your captain [O'Connell], losing your talismanic loose forward like Sean O’Brien, your director of operations in Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony, a leader in the lineout, plus Jared Payne – it was a kind of concertina effect for us.

“This time, hopefully, we’ve got through unscathed and we can give it our best shot.”

Schmidt was pleased with his side’s performance against the Samoans, particularly in how they started strongly and then “continued it pretty well,” having failed to do so against Japan and Russia in their previous two games.

He felt Ireland were “tactically relatively solid” after Aki’s red card and while he admitted their second-half performance “probably wasn’t great to watch,” the head coach took comfort from how his team went to their strengths in the set-piece, by controlling territory, and carrying close to the ruck.

Schmidt and his players are well aware that next weekend’s quarter-final, whether it’s against the All Blacks or Boks, will require another leap in performance. 

joe-schmidt-and-rory-best-before-the-game Schmidt and Best will hope this quarter-final goes better than the last one. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Having been part of Ireland squads who lost quarter-finals in 2011 and 2015, captain Best is keen for his team to learn from their shortcomings in this pool campaign and turn that into something special.

“Hopefully we’ll win, which will be different from the last two World Cups, which would be nice,” said Best with a smile after the victory against Samoa.

“Look, I think you’ve got to try to be prepared. We know that it’s knock-outs and we said a couple of weeks ago after the Japan game that it’s important that we learned our lessons from the last two World Cups I’ve been involved in.

“I’ve looked back at quarter-finals and went, ‘Do you know what? We just weren’t quite where we thought we were.’ We rolled through two pool stages where we didn’t lose a game.

“We were full of confidence and maybe, looking back now, maybe a little bit of over-confidence. It’s hard to know.

“I think it’s really important that we look at that Japan week, coming off the back of a good performance against Scotland and go, ‘Right, what stone did we leave unturned?’ It’s got to be all about rugby this week.

“We’ll enjoy a bit of downtime when it’s there but ultimately it is about going to a quarter-final because it’s knock-out rugby and you don’t get a second chance at it.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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