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After Super Saturday lives up to billing, Ireland get set to launch their World Cup

Joe Schmidt’s men have the forward power to start their campaign with a win.

IRELAND AND SCOTLAND will be forgiven if they don’t quite match the spills and thrills of Super Saturday when they meet in Yokohama today [KO 8.45am Irish time, eir Sport/RTÉ].

There was much expected of the mouthwatering line-up on the second day of the World Cup in Japan and the three fixtures duly delivered buckets of excitement, some controversy, and plenty of scintillating rugby. 

Today, it’s time for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland to join the party as they get their World Cup campaign underway against a Scotland team who are intent on upsetting the Pool A favourites.

rory-best-and-niall-scannell Ireland during their training session at International Stadium Yokohama. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With Schmidt sensing calm and some confidence in his players, captain Rory Best and co. seem well-placed to get things going with a victory.

Ireland’s pack appears to hold the key, with Schmidt’s forwards capable of bullying the Scots if they can deliver on their potential.

The combination of Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, and CJ Stander looked like Ireland’s most likely starting back row from a long way out, despite the form of Jack Conan and some other interest options for Schmidt.

With O’Mahony’s lineout skills, Stander’s carrying and van der Flier’s mobility, they appear to complement each other well for this contest. Schmidt would, of course, like to have fully-fit Dan Leavy and Sean O’Brien among his options, but there is real quality in this Ireland back row. 

“It’s unfortunate for the likes of Seanie and Dan to be missing out through injury and you want to do it for them, all the hard work they’ve put into this team over the last few years and it must be really tough for them to miss out on a World Cup,” said van der Flier.

The Scots, meanwhile, have gone for a trio of John Barclay, Ryan Wilson, and openside Hamish Watson, who often tends to be like a pinball as he bounces off would-be tacklers.

“They’ve got a back row that can compete on the ground and in the air,” said Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby, underlining how the Scots are sure to come after his men at lineout time. 

In that regard, Iain Henderson’s likely leadership of the Ireland lineout, where he will lean on the jumping skills of James Ryan and O’Mahony, is set to be crucial. 

peter-omahony Peter O'Mahony is part of a strong-looking Irish pack. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland have scored 47% of their tries in the last two seasons from lineout platforms, underlining how important a source it is for Schmidt’s side. Scotland will have watched England take the Irish lineout apart during the warm-up games, so pressure will be on Henderson and co. to nail the first few on Rory Best’s throw.

“Iain and James work well together,” said Easterby. “They’re quick on their feet, quick into the air, and I believe with the combination of the guys lifting as well we have some world-class guys on the ground that don’t go up but do the unseen work.

“We have a very good combination of all those things along with two hookers who can put the ball where it’s needed.”

Skipper Best is part of a settled front row that also included Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong, and they will expect to have an edge at scrum time against the Scottish trio of Allan Dell, captain Stuart McInally and WP Nel. 

Meanwhile, away from the coalface this is also an intriguing tie. 

With current World Rugby player of the year Johnny Sexton and Lions scrum-half Conor Murray in their halfbacks, Ireland should expect a degree of control, although Greig Laidlaw is a clever game manager at nine for Scotland and possesses a fine kicking game.

Finn Russell is the joker in the pack for the Scots, capable of creating scores in the blink of an eye, but equally able to put his side under severe pressure with risky decisions. He, along with Stuart Hogg, will thrive if Ireland let the game become broken-up – Scotland have scored 26% of their tries in the past two seasons on turnovers and kick return possession.

The kick battle between both pairs of halfbacks will be interesting too, particularly given how important this area of the game has become in the lead-up to the World Cup. 

jordan-larmour Jordan Larmour gets his shot in the 15 shirt. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Both sides seem likely to box kick, particularly if there are showers of rain, although Ireland only used the tactic in one of their four warm-up games.

“I think we need to paint different pictures probably for defensive teams and getting into aerial contests has been difficult for the last while,” said kicking coach Richie Murphy.

“So, trying to kick to places where there’s less numbers gives us better access to get into the challenge.”

But there will be more than box kicking. Hogg has a fine boot, while Russell’s short attacking chips and grubbers are always a danger. We’ve seen more of that from Ireland in the warm-up games too as they’ve added more variety to their kicking repertoire.

“I think people’s attack kicking game has become very prevalent over the last while,” said Murphy. “People are reacting to the way defences are moving over the last while and what opportunities that gives them.

“From a defensive point of view you have to be careful about what pictures you paint, because there’s always somewhere – no matter what defensive system you have – there will always be a weakness in it somewhere. It’s just trying to hide those weaknesses as best you can.”

That, of course, is a task for Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway and Jacob Stockdale in Ireland’s back three, with the expectation being that the Scots will test Ireland’s backfield positioning in the absence of the experienced Rob Kearney and Keith Earls.

That said, the brilliant Hogg – who Schmidt said is “the kingpin” for the Scots – Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour will be questioned by Sexton, as well as Larmour and Ringrose’s grubber-kicking.

jonathan-sexton Johnny Sexton will look to control the game from 10. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt believes his relatively untested back three combination is up to the task, while the Ireland boss is also excited about what they can bring in attack.

23-year-old Stockdale already has 16 tries in his 21 Tests and now gets a chance to shine on the World Cup stage. He watched Japan wing Kotaro Matsushima scoring a hat-trick in the opening game of the World Cup with ideas of perhaps emulating him.

“That’s exactly how you’d like it to go as a winger for your first game in the World Cup,” said Stockdale with a smile.

Larmour and Conway will bring major attacking enthusiasm too, and will hope the midfield of Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose can provide them with one-on-ones in attack as they combine with Sexton to create in phase play.

The Ireland bench offers a fair degree of change-up, with Dave Kilcoyne and Andrew Porter capable of an explosive impact in the propping slots, while Niall Scannell should provide set-piece stability in replacing Best. 

Tahdg Beirne is an ideal replacement – skillful, agile and brilliant at the defensive lineout and breakdown – while Conan can also deliver something different with his dynamic ball-carrying and offloading ability.

Both replacement scrum-halves, Ali Price and Luke McGrath, can snipe and run strong support lines in attack, while the relatively inexperienced sub out-half for Ireland, Jack Carty, has delightful attacking instincts.

tadhg-beirne Tadhg Beirne offers bench impact for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Scotland’s 23rd man, Darcy Graham, is a potential game-changer with his acceleration and underrated power, something that Chris Farrell also offers for Ireland off the bench.

With Ireland’s 23 looking stronger in the key areas, even without the injured Kearney, Earls and Robbie Henshaw, they appear to have the edge and deserve their favouritism.

With a big green army expected in Yokohama – they made themselves heard during the All Blacks’ win over the Springboks – Schmidt’s men must make it a happy start to their 2019 World Cup journey.

“All the big games, the big tournaments that we play in, our fans always manage to end up travelling at any expense it seems, getting tickets at all costs to turn up for us,” said flanker O’Mahony.

“We’re a very proud nation, a proud squad. To be from Ireland and to get an opportunity to play for Ireland is something that no one takes lightly.”

 Ireland:

15. Jordan Larmour
14. Andrew Conway
13. Garry Ringrose
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. Peter O’Mahony
7. Josh van der Flier
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Niall Scannell
17. Dave Kilcoyne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Tadhg Beirne
20. Jack Conan
21. Luke McGrath
22. Jack Carty
23. Chris Farrell

Scotland:

15. Stuart Hogg
14. Tommy Seymour
13. Duncan Taylor
12. Sam Johnson
11. Sean Maitland
10. Finn Russell
9. Greig Laidlaw

1. Allan Dell
2. Stuart McInally (captain)
3. Willem Nel
4. Grant Gilchrist
5. Jonny Gray
6. John Barclay
7. Hamish Watson
8. Ryan Wilson

Replacements:

16. Fraser Brown
17. Gordon Reid
18. Simon Berghan
19. Scott Cummings
20. Blade Thomson
21. Ali Price
22. Chris Harris
23. Darcy Graham 

Referee: Wayne Barnes [England].

- This article was updated at 1.44am Irish time to remove reference to Scotland’s Adam Hastings. 

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Yokohama

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