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Ireland get World Rugby assurances that pitch in Fukuoka is safe to play on

Joe Schmidt was visibly disappointed with the surface at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium.

POINTEDLY, JOE SCHMIDT strode onto the pitch at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium this afternoon, reached the centre, and stamped on the ground a few times.

Schmidt then called over Ireland’s head of operations, Ger Carmody, and scrum coach, Greg Feek, for further discussion, bending over to test the surface with his hands and looking very unimpressed.

From the sideline, the pitch at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium looks simply awful, with strips of newly-laid grass clearly visible.

Indeed, some of Ireland’s players were alarmingly able to lift up a section of the pitch and place a rugby ball underneath it.

Italy and Canada were aggrieved with the quality of the pitch during their Pool B game here last month, while it visibly chopped up once again as France and the US played here nine days ago, and that was after one of the 15-metre channels had been relaid.

World Rugby has since completely resurfaced the entire pitch because of “an inability for the original surface to recover after heavy rain sustained during Typhoon 17.”

World Rugby said today that the “surface has bedded-in well and while aesthetically it might not look perfect, it will perform well.”

Ireland, however, have their understandable concerns.

“You guys are pretty smart individuals, you would have seen the pitch yourselves,” said Feek after Ireland’s captain’s run today.

“Obviously, they told us and both teams know about it, we know they had to relay the pitch. We went out there and just had an inspection and we have been given all the assurances by World Rugby that it’s safe to play on and that’s all we can ask for.

“Obviously, I don’t want to predict anything or cause any more controversy at this stage. We will just try to back the players, trust that the pitch will do its job.

“We are trying to alleviate any concerns while we are out there but then it’s just a matter of wait and see. The referee will be aware of it, so that’s the key. All the communication is there.”

japan-rugby-wcup-ireland Ireland face Samoa in Fukuoka tomorrow. Source: Aaron Favila

Australia’s Nic Berry is the man in the middle for tomorrow’s clash, so he will carry out a final inspection to be sure the pitch is match-worthy, although Ireland’s players believe it will be fine.

“It doesn’t look great, to be honest with you, but actually out there, it’s flat and it’s quite firm,” said Keith Earls.

“It doesn’t feel too bad to run on. Like what Feeky said, it has been inspected and it has been deemed playable. That’s the way it felt out there today. I suppose it’s going to be the same for both teams. We just have to get on with the job.”

Grass expert CJ Stander informed us that the pitch is “actually A grade grass but I think it just needs a bit more time” before highlighting the Ireland forwards’ intent to ensure they deliver quality scrum ball even if the turf peels up.

Feek has concerns in that area.

“That’s always my concern, no matter whether it’s a training pitch or a game,” said Feek.

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“As Earlsy said, it’s fine running around out there – passing, kicking the ball, jumping, tackling and all the rest of that stuff – but when it comes to a static, isometric position like that where there are impacts going on, you’re always going to be a little cautious and ask the questions.

japan-rugby-wcup-ireland Ireland had their captain's run in Fukuoka today. Source: Aaron Favila

“That’s all you can do, really – prepare our guys as best we can but also we’re going to try to make sure the scrum stays up, not just for safety but for the game itself.”

A statement from World Rugby this afternoon insists they believe the pitch will hold up tomorrow.

“We are confident in the integrity of the new Fukuoka pitch for Ireland v Samoa,” reads the statement. “With stability and performance the key considerations, World Rugby and JR 2019 took the decision to re-turf the playing surface following significant wear caused by the France versus USA match after heavy rainfall as a consequence of Typhoon 17. The primary driver was player welfare.

“The tournament has dedicated nurseries where back-up turf is meticulously prepared in line with Rugby World Cup standards.

“While the look of the turf may not be perfect, as would be expected with a very recent installation, we are confident that the pitch will perform superbly.” 

All 31 of Ireland’s World Cup squad togged out and ran in today’s session in Fukuoka, including fullback Rob Kearney, who picked up a groin strain against Russia last week, and back row Jordi Murphy, who suffered a rib injury in that game.

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Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium

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