After all the drama of Typhoon Hagibis, the fate of Ireland, Scotland and Japan was thankfully decided on the pitch. The end result is an Ireland quarter final clash against New Zealand, a fixture many thought could be the final.
The men in Green have famously never progressed beyond this stage in any World Cup. Here’s how they can do it this time.
Maximise forward power
It is no secret that Ireland’s game is based on a strong forward platform, off which Conor Murray then launches his quality kicking game. It brought them their first three tries against Scotland in their opening game, that immediately set them up well for qualification. It was another rolling maul that allowed Rory Best to open the scoring against Samoa, a match that sealed qualification despite that defeat to Japan.
For @IrishRugby's Rory Best 💪
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 12, 2019
Ireland have not been convincing in 2019. Is this because other teams have now worked out how to play them?
Unleash backline pace
One way to counter this would be for Joe Schmidt to introduce variation to the gameplan. For Ireland this will principally involve a more creative attack.
The statistics show that Ireland have made 45 clean breaks, only the seventh most in the tournament. Their top individual, Garry Ringrose, has made seven. In comparison their opponents have made 71 clean breaks in three matches.
Ireland have however made the second most runs (559). Tellingly though, four of their top five individuals for most runs are forwards. The one back in this list is Jordan Larmour, who has made 35 runs and 6 clean breaks in only two starts.
Jordan Larmour goes dancing. 💃 pic.twitter.com/ASqDE2dPs5
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) October 12, 2019
There is no guarantee Larmour and other speedman Andrew Conway will even make the starting lineup for the quarter final. Rob Kearney and Keith Earls are the other contenders for the 14 and 15 shirts. You would expect Schmidt would opt for the experience of one or both of them against the All Blacks.
Ireland are not necessarily a one-dimensional or boring team to watch, but as Japan have shown, taking risks can be the way to success. Schmidt’s hand may be forced if Bundee Aki is suspended, given Robbie Henshaw only made his first appearance against Samoa.
But risk-taking also applies to in-game tactics. Should Ireland look to capitalise on their maul strength and turn down kickable penalties? Can Sexton and Murray take control of the game with ball in hand and well as kicking?
Some questioned Joey Carbery’s decision making when he kicked the ball out against Japan and take the losing bonus point. But that point was vital in the Pool A battle for qualification; Ireland clearly can adapt to match circumstances when it matters.
Ireland Quarter final curse could continue
Part of the appeal of this World Cup was the multiple possible winners. Ireland demonstrating they could beat New Zealand was a main part of this. They are going to have to do this again to finally progress past the quarter finals.
Based on performances and form, this seems a lot less likely than it did a few months ago. Ireland may have an advantage in that New Zealand have been disrupted by the typhoon, and haven’t really had to work hard since the first game against South Africa.
Of course knockout rugby means all form counts for nothing, but it now will be considered a big surprise if Ireland are going to avoid another quarter final loss.
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