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'The All Blacks know we can come and play and that we can beat them'

Ireland must now wait to learn if they will face the Kiwis or the Springboks next weekend.

NOW, IRELAND MUST wait.

They’ve guaranteed themselves a quarter-final at the World Cup, so at least it’s not a nervous wait, but they don’t yet know who they’re going to be playing next weekend in Tokyo.

Tomorrow’s scheduled clash between Japan and Scotland in Yokohama, the final fixture in Pool A, will decide whether Joe Schmidt’s men face South Africa or New Zealand.

iain-henderson-and-jonathan-sexton-celebrate-after-the-game Ireland hammered Samoa to seal their quarter-final spot. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

If the game is called off, as remains a strong possibility, Ireland will finish as Pool A runners-up behind Japan and, therefore, take on New Zealand at Toyko Stadium next Saturday.

If the game goes ahead and Japan beat the Scots, the same scenario will unfold.

But in the event that the game goes ahead and Gregor Townsend’s side win, Ireland would go through as Pool A winners and instead face the Springboks at Tokyo Stadium next Sunday.

With Typhoon Hagibis having passed through Yokohama on Saturday night in Japan, World Rugby will make a decision on whether game is going ahead early on Sunday morning local time [around midnight Irish time].

“It’s a bit of a wait and see,” said Rory Best after Ireland’s impressive 47-5 win over Samoa in Fukuoka had secured their quarter-final place.

Taking on Steve Hansen’s New Zealand would be a big ask for Ireland, obviously, but not one they would be daunted by. Schmidt’s side have beaten the Kiwis in two of their three most recent meetings, lending Ireland a degree of confidence.

The ‘fear factor’ previously associated with playing the All Blacks has faded since Ireland’s first-ever win over them in Chicago in 2016.

“Up until two or three years ago we hadn’t beaten them but they’re definitely aware of us more so now than they were before Chicago,” said Andrew Conway after scoring a try in Ireland’s win over Samoa. 

andrew-conway-scores-their-seventh-try Andrew Conway was among the Ireland try-scorers against Samoa. Source: Jayne Russell/INPHO

“I’d be surprised if they’re scared of us but they definitely know we can come and play and that we can beat them.

“But they’re playing ridiculously well at the moment, they’re just looking sharp. They look like they’ve timed their run nicely. If it is them we’ll have to be at 110% to get stuck into them.”

Conway underlined that the Springboks are probably alongside New Zealand as “the top two teams in the world at the moment,” so a clash with Rassie Erasmus’ side would be similarly tough.

Schmidt is waiting on events to unfold tomorrow before diving into his planning for next weekend, but he’s well aware of how good Ireland will need to be if they do come up against his native New Zealand.

“I feel that you’ve got to be at your very, very best to have a chance and the All Blacks are the sort of team that you could play at your best against and still not quite get the result,” said Schmidt after his side’s bonus-point victory in Fukuoka.

“Because they weren’t number one in the world for 10 years and they’re not back-to-back World Cup winners for no reason.”

 “They’re that because of the personnel they have, because of the culture they have and the performance they manage to put together on a very regular basis.

ireland-fans-celebrate Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“So for us, it would be, to a degree, a mountain to climb but I think after tonight the lads got their boots on and they’ve got a few crampons, and they’ve taken a little bit of an ascent.

“Obviously, the whole thing gets steeper next week but if it is the All Blacks, then we’ll look to scale those heights.”

The All Blacks, of course, had their feet up on Saturday watching on as Ireland played Samoa, their own scheduled clash with Italy in Pool B having been cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis. 

The Boks, meanwhile, played their last Pool B game on Tuesday so they too will have had a long build-up into the quarter-final.

Conway said it’s hard to judge whether a rest weekend or Ireland’s momentum-building seven-try win was the better preparation for a World Cup quarter-final. 

“You can take the positives from either,” said Conway. “If you look at it negatively or positively – New Zealand will be fresh but we will be battle-hardened.”

Tomorrow can’t come quick enough and neither can next weekend.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Fukuoka

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