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Cancelled games give England and All Blacks 'an advantage' - Schmidt

The leading World Cup contenders will all have lengthy build-ups to their quarter-finals.

WE WERE TOLD the first World Cup in Asia was going to be very different, but no one expected this.

We were told that the Japanese typhoon season could cause trouble for the World Cup, but few people genuinely anticipated cancelled games.

Typhoon Hagibis is the strongest of the entire season, however, and with forecasts still saying it will reach the Japanese mainland in the Yokohama and Tokyo region on Saturday, World Rugby yesterday pulled the plug on two fixtures. 

japan-rugby-wcup World Rugby cancelled two games yesterday. Source: Eugene Hoshiko

England and France’s Pool C has been settled without them laying a finger on each other, while New Zealand’s status as Pool B winners has been confirmed without the Kiwis having to face the admittedly unlikely prospect of being shocked by Italy.

Meanwhile, Japan’s game with Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday remains in real doubt, though the Scots will do everything in their power to force World Rugby to have it played.

Not playing this weekend leaves the French, English, and Kiwis in the rather bizarre situation of only having played three pool fixtures before their quarter-finals.

By the time England almost certainly face Australia in their quarter-final in Oita, Eddie Jones’ side won’t have played for a full two weeks. Jones was delighted with that fact as the English high-tailed out of Tokyo yesterday, bound for a training camp in Miyazaki.

The French will also have had a two-week break before their probable meeting with Wales. Though there is in-fighting between les Bleus‘ players and coaches, that lead-in could be useful as long as they don’t tear each other apart in the extended downtime.

Perhaps most pertinently for Ireland, the All Blacks will have had 13 days’ preparation for their quarter-final in Tokyo, where they could meet Joe Schmidt’s side depending on results in Pool A this weekend. 

While Steve Hansen might have liked to get more minutes under Brodie Retallick’s belt – the lock has played just 30 of them after recovering from his shoulder injury – and strengthened combinations against the Italians this weekend, Schmidt is in little doubt about where the advantage is.

While his Ireland team go in search of a bonus-point win against Samoa on Saturday to guarantee themselves a quarter-final spot, the Kiwis, the English, and the French will now have their feet up watching it unfold – clear of the danger of injuries or suspensions.

joe-schmidt Schmidt in Fukuoka yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“When you’ve had a long lead-in like we’ve had, and we’ve had some games concertinaed together quite closely, I think it’s always an advantage to get a longer lead-in,” said Schmidt. “That would be my personal opinion.

“I think it would be the opinion of any coach that you ask.

“I did read a little bit on Eddie Jones. He looked fairly disappointed that he was going to head off on a mini-camp and do some really good training on the Saturday and have a few beers.

“So while they’re doing that we’ll be rolling our sleeves up trying to combat a Samoa side that has heaps of talent and will be inevitably physical because that’s how they play the game and that’s how the game tends to be played at the top level.”

Ireland could also face South Africa in the quarter-finals if they get there, although even Rassie Erasmus’ men had the relative advantage of finishing their pool campaign on Tuesday, meaning a 12-day lead-in to that knock-out game.

Schmidt stressed that he and his players aren’t getting ahead of themselves, however, as they focus on getting the job done against Samoa in Fukuoka.

Winning with a bonus point on Saturday will ensure they definitely feature in the quarter-finals, though events on Sunday would dictate whether they advance as Pool A winners or runners-up.  

joe-schmidt-and-jonathan-sexton Schmidt with Johnny Sexton at Ireland training. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Whatever happens in Yokohama happens, but Ireland can control what unfolds in Fukuoka.

“For us, the next 48 hours build-up is our full focus,” said Schmidt. “We can’t really afford to be distracted by any other matches that may or may not be played.

“We’ve just got to make sure we get our preparation right and then the performance on the back of that preparation is as good as we can make it, to make sure that whatever destiny we do manage to attain, it is including another game and we get to stay on for another week, whether it’s to play the All Blacks or whether it’s to play South Africa.”

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Murray Kinsella

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