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Scotland's big win underlines importance of bonus-point victory for Ireland

Joe Schmidt’s side still have it in their control to secure a quarter-final.

THE POSSIBILITIES FOR how Pool A of the World Cup pans out on the upcoming final weekend seem almost limitless.

Bonus points, losing bonus points, try-scoring bonus points with losing bonus points, points difference – all are involved in the permutations.

Scotland’s expected bonus-point win over Russia today, on a final scoreline of 61-0, makes the final two games of this pool fascinating.

Ireland clash with Samoa on Saturday, before Scotland – with just a four-day turnaround – take on hosts Japan on Sunday.

Pool A

Ireland could even go through to the World Cup quarter-finals after losing to Samoa on Saturday, but they understand that securing a knock-out tie is within their own control.

If Joe Schmidt’s side beat Samoa in Fukuoka with a try-scoring bonus point, they will be in the World Cup quarter-finals, regardless of what happens in the other game.

Getting that job done on Saturday is well within the capabilities of Schmidt’s players and would save them a nervy Sunday.

The bonus-point victory could even see Ireland top Pool A but Japan can remove that possibility simply by beating the Scots on Sunday.

Japan, it’s worth stressing, are the team in control of this pool right now, having won all three of their games so far.

If they can get over the line against the Scots, Japan would almost certainly face South Africa in the quarter-finals of their competition, while Ireland would likely clash with the All Blacks.

From Ireland’s point of view, failure to win would be an obvious disaster, if not actually tournament-ending. We don’t need to go into too much greater depth – it would be a shock even greater than the Japan upset in Shizuoka.

However, even a regular win without a bonus-point against the Samoans would leave Ireland in potentially tricky water.

jonathan-sexton Ireland are expected to name their front-liners to face the Samoans. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Such a win would mean Ireland finishing on 15 match points. If Scotland then had a bonus-point win over the Japanese, while the Brave Blossoms picked up a losing bonus point, they would both also finish on 15 match points.

In that event, the team with the best points difference [currently Scotland] would top the pool, with second place decided by head-to-head record. Ireland’s defeat to Japan could be deeply costly in that event, sending Schmidt’s men out of the competition.

Again, it underlines that Ireland simply must win in try-scoring form on Saturday.

Schmidt is expected to name as strong a team as possible tomorrow morning at 8am Irish time, with a host of front-liners expected to return after being rested for last Thursday’s win over Russia.

Any ideas of this final pool game being used to wrap key players in cotton wool faded after the upset at the hands of Japan, with Schmidt understanding that he simply cannot leave anything to chance against the Samoans.

Ireland have only played Samoa six times in Test rugby, losing once back in 1996.

Their most recent meeting was in 2013 and was Schmidt’s very first game in charge of Ireland, with a 40-9 victory getting his era up and running. 

Like Schmidt’s squad, the Samoans have changed vastly since but their current group is somewhat depleted after an injury to Afa Amosa and suspensions for Rey Lee-Lo and Matu Motu’u at this World Cup.

conor-murray-celebrates-with-try-scorer-sean-obrien Ireland beat Samoa in Joe Schmidt's first game in charge. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

There is still plenty of proven individual quality in their squad in the likes of Alapati Leiua, captain Jack Lam, and Tim Nanai Williams  – presuming he is fit to play after failing a HIA in their most recent game against Japan on Saturday.

Clearly, there are dangers for Ireland and it’s patently obvious they are at pains not to come across as underestimating the challenge, but there is also an acute awareness that Ireland don’t want to leave their fate outside their own control.

Under Schmidt, it’s all about nailing the things you can directly impact on. This time around, it’s securing a bonus-point win against the Samoans.

Whether it’s New Zealand or South Africa waiting on the other side of that, they can at least wait to see without a deeply restless Sunday.

Having played Samoa in Schmidt’s first game in charge, Ireland must make sure his final game as head coach doesn’t come against the same opposition.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Fukuoka

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