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Ireland out to clinch World Cup quarter-final with bonus-point win over Samoans

Joe Schmidt’s side can save themselves a nervous Sunday by winning with four tries in Fukuoka today.

IT’S EASY TO forget in the current state of affairs that at one point earlier this week, it looked like Ireland’s game against Samoa in Fukuoka was the one in greatest threat of being cancelled.

Indeed, at one point during the week, Ireland had been informed by World Rugby to be on standby for a possible change of venue, with the game potentially shifting to Tokyo to avoid the wrath of Typhoon Hagibis.

Instead, Ireland and Samoa’s clash today [KO 11.45am Irish time, eir Sport/RTÉ] is in the clear and the games further north have either been called off or are in real danger of being cancelled.

jonathan-sexton Johnny Sexton starts at 10 in a strong Ireland team. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Joe Schmidt’s men do have some concerns of their own with a newly-laid pitch at Fukuoka Hakanatomori Stadium clearly not ideally bedded-in yet, but that is small fry in comparison to the storm heading for Yokohama and Tokyo today.

The perfect scenario for Ireland against Samoa is a bonus-point win that guarantees them a quarter-final and no fresh injuries ahead of that possible knock-out game against either New Zealand or South Africa.

It is true that even a single losing bonus point could be enough for Ireland if Sunday’s Pool A game between Japan and Scotland is called off, but Schmidt will have stressed to his players the importance of taking this chance to confirm their knock-out status without having to endure a nervy Sunday.

Ireland feel well-placed to deliver their best performance yet at this World Cup, having thoroughly enjoyed a nine-day turnaround from last Thursday’s 35-0 win over Russia, that long stint allowing the players a full weekend off before Schmidt led a more familiar week-long build-up.

As importantly, Schmidt has been able to name a very strong starting team for this test against Steve Jackson’s Samoans, with Rob Kearney and Peter O’Mahony the only perceived front-liners absent from the starting XV for Ireland.

Kearney strained his groin in the win over Russia and missed the early part of this training week, while O’Mahony has started all three of Ireland’s World Cup games so far and moves to the bench.

But Schmidt will have underlined to starting blindside flanker Tadhg Beirne that he can apply pressure on vice-captain O’Mahony with a strong performance in the set-piece, breakdown and with his energetic ball-carrying. The Munster captain is still the odds-on favourite to start a possible quarter-final but Beirne now has his chance.

joe-schmidt-inspects-the-pitch Joe Schmidt inspecting the pitch. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The same cannot be said for Rhys Ruddock, who has been left out of the matchday squad after a man-of-the-match showing against Russia, in which his 3.6 metres gained per carry made him the most effective ball carrier for Ireland at this World Cup so far. This was a selection decision, pure and simple, with Ruddock fit and available.

Jordan Larmour underlines that he is Ireland’s second-in-line at fullback in Kearney’s absence, providing him another opportunity, but again it would be a surprise if the veteran Leinster man were not to start in any quarter-final Ireland might earn.

Otherwise, Ireland line up as expected, with Robbie Henshaw’s return from a hamstring injury an exciting factor for Schmidt and his coaching staff. Alongside him, it will be a big day for Bundee Aki, whose parents are Samoan and who is close friends with some of the opposition.

“We have no special plan for Bundee, he’ll get the same treatment as everyone else,” said Samoa captain Jack Lam today.

“Most of the boys are pretty close to him and some of them met up with him during the week. We’re all friends off the field but once you cross the line…”

Expect some fireworks in contact in that regard, as the Samoans look to finish their disappointing World Cup campaign with a bang. Ireland are the clear favourites, with a 28-point margin, but Jackson’s side have nothing to lose and will attempt to enjoy themselves with an expansive game plan.

The likes of Clermont fullback Tim Nanai Williams, London Irish openside TJ Ioane, Bristol centre Alapati Leiua, and free agent and captain Jack Lam are among the players Ireland will have focused on in their analysis this week.

japan-rugby-wcup-samoa Samoa at their captain's run yesterday in Fukuoka. Source: Aaron Favila

For their part, the Samoans have spent time looking at Ireland’s ball-carrying forwards and the influence of their “experienced halves,” Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, according to assistant coach Alistair Rogers.

Samoa have been frustrated by refereeing decisions in this World Cup, meaning Australian ref Nic Berry will be under scrutiny from both sides today, with the Samoans’ average of nearly 12 penalties conceded per game making them the least-disciplined team in the competition, statistically speaking.

Ireland will look to use any such infringements to find the touchline and launch their intentive power plays from the lineout, while they will also attempt to squeeze the Samoans in the scrum and maul, as well as with their tactical kicking game.

Andy Farrell’s defence has been a highlight of this competition for Ireland and they will be keen to keep their tryline intact if at all possible, as they search for the kind of commanding performance that would not only secure them a quarter-final, but also give them Schmidt’s side encouraging momentum heading into a possible knock-out tie.

Ireland:

15. Jordan Larmour
14. Keith Earls
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Iain Henderson
5. James Ryan
6. Tadhg Beirne
7. Josh van der Flier
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Niall Scannell
17. Dave Kilcoyne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Jean Kleyn
20. Peter O’Mahony
21. Luke McGrath
22. Joey Carbery
23. Andrew Conway  

Samoa:

15. Tim Nanai Williams
14. Ah See Tuala
13. Alapati Leiua
12. Henry Taefu
11. Ed Fidow
10. UJ Seuteni
9. Dwayne Polataivao

1. Logovi’i Mulipola
2. Seilala Lam
3. Michael Alaalatoa
4. Teofilo Paulo
5. Kane Le’aupepe
6. Chris Vui
7. TJ Ioane
8. Jack Lam

Replacements:

16. Ray Niuia
17. Paul Alo-Emile
18. Jordan Lay
19. Piula Fa’aselele
20. Josh Tyrell
21. Pele Cowley
22. Tusi Pisi
23. Kieron Fonotia

Referee: Nic Berry [Australia].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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