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The 'gimme' Ireland RWC fixture that now has a very different complexion

By Liam Heagney
Mid-tournament call-up Jordi Murphy has it all to do on Thursday in Kobe (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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Kobe’s humid port city streets were quiet on Tuesday evening when RugbyPass took a successful ramble in search of some of the area’s signature marbled beef.


Ever since it was pencilled into the RWC calendar, Ireland’s match against Russia had always been viewed as the Pool A gimme for Joe Schmidt’s side and the cavalry that was their army-size support in Yokohama and Shizuoka won’t have the same strength in depth in Kobe that was evident against Scotland and Japan. 

Thing is, though, this ‘gimme’ against Russia has now assumed a huge significance no one ever imagined would be the case at these finals. Ambushed by the RWC’s host nation, the pool dynamic has massively shifted and major Irish wounds are in need of some much-needed balm to get their deflated campaign back on track. Here, RugbyPass sets the scene as Schmidt and co attempt to soothe some of the scars from last Saturday.

Murphy must deliver the beef in Kobe

How Jordi Murphy goes will be interesting. So much science has gone into Ireland’s preparation in Japan with their originally chosen 31 players, so stepping off a long-haul flight and jumping straight into starting a match at a World Cup with a team you were devastatingly told not so long ago you weren’t needed with is quite a dynamic. 

(Continue reading below…)

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Adding intrigue is Ireland’s clear need for greater ball-carrying dependability following last Saturday’s disappearing act where the starting Irish pack managed a paltry 63 metres off 53 carries, on average a 1.1 metre gain per carry. No wonder they collectively struggled to impose themselves against a Japanese eight.

The lack of back row heft was a particular issue, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier and Peter O’Mahony making just 30 metres off 18 carries (an average 1.6 metres per carry) compared to the Japanese back row which clocked in with 101 metres off 31 carries (3.2 metres). 

Called up due to Jack Conan’s tournament-ending injury, Murphy will have it all do against the Russians to make an impact that lasts at this tournament beyond this particular start against the minnows and carries on into the remaining games. 

His last two Test starts came at No8 in 2019 matches versus Italy where he managed just six metres off 10 carries in Dublin in August and 12 metres off 13 carries in Rome last February. They are numbers that won’t wash in Japan where a far better cameo is the minimum requirement.   


If he doesn’t deliver, Irish fans will be reminded next week at a stadium similar to Thomond Park just how their back row is really missing the injured Sean O’Brien, whose action pictures from the 2015 World Cup were much in evidence in places such as Fukuoka airport metro station when RugbyPass took in Wednesday’s cagey win by France over the USA.

He really is the missing link when it comes to a hustler whose style is to repeatedly get on the ball and have a powerful blast in the carry.

Let’s talk about Jerome

Joe Schmidt has certainly thrown the focus on Thursday’s match referee Jerome Garces by revealing that two of the three incorrect offside calls made against his team versus Japan in Shizuoka came from Garces, who was working on the touchline as Angus Gardner’s assistant ref. 

It was further evidence that French officials haven’t been covering themselves in glory at RWC 2019, something that was always the fear when the list of appointments was confirmed as it didn’t add up why the French were taking up four of the 12 officiating slots in the tournament’s so-called ‘Team 21’. 

Ireland’s fortunes with Garces on the whistle have been mixed. There were wins over England in 2017 (10/9 against Ireland on the penalty count) and Australia in 2016 (3/13 against the Aussies on the penalty count), a 2016 Six Nations draw with Wales (7/6 against Ireland on the penalty count) and a defeat to England at the start of 2019 (4/8 against England on the penalty count). 

All this after Garces was the ref for the infamous 2015 World Cup quarter-final loss to Argentina, a calamitous Sunday when Ireland were penalised 12 times which enabled the Pumas – who admittedly were penalised 15 times – to successfully kick five of their six chances off the tee to win 43-20.   

Being without Best not the same as being Sexton-less

RugbyPass highlighted in the run-up to the Japanese loss how Ireland had failed to live up to its promise since the last World Cup to ensure they had a well-experienced Plan B if Johnny Sexton was to ever not start a massive match at the 2019 World Cup. 

Giving Jack Carty only his second ever start as a Test No10 illustrated how Ireland without Sexton was something Joe Schmidt hadn’t placed too much store in the last four years before the Japan fixture. 

Paddy Jackson was the curveball that left Schmidt vulnerable, becoming ineligible for selection in April 2018 after starting nine games since the last World Cup. That left far too little opportunity to cement exposure into alternative starting No10s and a heavy price was paid last weekend.


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Another specialised position where the exposure for others has been limited is at hooker where veteran Rory Best has started 32 of Ireland’s 46 matches since the 2015 World Cup quarter-final loss to Argentina.

Niall Scannell has started eight times, Rob Herring three, Sean Cronin two and James Tracy one and it’s Scannell who Ireland are looking to on Thursday as the starting hooker in Kobe. 

Thankfully, it’s not another Carty-like situation for Ireland. Minnows Russia are not at all the danger that RWC hosts Japan were, while a more seasoned Scannell can count among his previous starts a Six Nations No2 appearance in Rome in 2017 and crucially two starts on the 2018 June Test series win in Australia. 

That sets him apart from Carty and suggests that Ireland without Best are somewhat better catered for than Ireland without Sexton.    

Kearney/Earls game for more Russian roulette

Ireland managed nine tries in Rotorua eight years again when they last encountered the Russians at a World Cup, Declan Kidney’s charges winning 62-10 eight days after they had ambushed Australia at Eden Park. 

Rob Kearney and Keith Earls are the sole two starters from that afternoon in the city of geothermal geysers who are on deck again in Kobe. Sean Cronin, that day’s No2, is on the Kobe bench, Johnny Sexton, a sub in Rotorua, now starts, while Cian Healy, the No1 eight years ago, is rested.  

Meanwhile, a glance at the team sheet from the September 2002 World Cup qualifier in Krasnoyarsk illustrates the Irish trend of former professional players sticking with the game once they retire. 

Five of the starting XV – Girvan Dempsey, Kevin Maggs, Ronan O’Gara, current Ireland assistant Simon Easterby and the late Anthony Foley – all coached professionally, while among the Siberian replacements you had current Leinster boss Leo Cullen along with his team manager Guy Easterby. Gloucester director of rugby David Humphreys was also among the subs.  

WATCH: Ireland boss Joe Schmidt announces his team for  Thursday’s RWC match against Russia

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