The Latest: Irish worried about re-laid Fukuoka field
TOKYO (AP) — The Latest on Day 22 at the Rugby World Cup (all times local):
Ireland has concerns over the state of the playing field at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium for Saturday’s Pool A match against Samoa.
The pitch was recently re-laid and the Irish found during Friday’s final practice that it appears to cut up too easily.
“We’ve been given all assurances by World Rugby that it’s safe to play on and that’s all we can ask for ... I trust the pitch will do its job,” Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek said. “When it comes to a symmetric position, where there’s a couple of big packs going at it, you’re always going to be a bit cautious and ask the questions.”
One of the main worries for the two burly forward packs will be having a stable base and not losing footing easily.
“That’s always my concern, whether it’s in training or on the pitch,” Feek said. “Make sure the scrums stay up; not just for safety but for the game itself.”
Back-rower CJ Stander starts the match at No. 8 for Ireland and he spoke of the terrain’s inconsistency, particularly in the way the surface was re-laid.
“It’s actually good grass, it’s just not stable on a few points. It’s actually A-grade grass, it’s just how they put it down,” he said. “It just needs a bit more time, there’s nothing we can do about that now. When you get to open space to run into, it’s actually not that bad.”
That open space is where veteran winger Keith Earls hopes to get his first try of the tournament.
He was not overly impressed by the pitch during the captain’s run but said it looks worse than it probably is.
“It doesn’t look great to be honest, but when you’re out there it’s quite flat and firm and doesn’t feel too bad to run on,” he said. “We’ll just have to get on with the job.”
With one of the pool stage’s most anticipated games at the mercy of a typhoon, Scotland coach Gregor Townsend is preparing for the must-win encounter with host Japan with the expectation it’s going ahead on Sunday.
If Ireland beats Samoa on Saturday, Scotland will need to beat Japan to qualify for the next stage.
Japan is 3-0, including an upset win over the Irish. Scotland opened with a heavy loss to Ireland, but has recovered to win its next two games with bonus points.
Townsend made 12 changes to his starting lineup for the Pool A showdown scheduled for Yokohama, recalling seven players to the starting XV who were rested for the midweek win over Russia.
Forwards Allan Dell, Jonny Gray, Blade Thomson and backs Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell, Sam Johnson and Stuart Hogg are returning fresh. Only Fraser Brown, Darcy Graham and Tommy Seymour are in the starting XV for back-to-back games.
Saturday’s game at Yokohama between England and France was cancelled because of concerns over the impact of Typhoon Hagibis, and so was New Zealand’s game against Italy in Toyota.
There’s been a lot of speculation about the game in Yokohama being canceled, with the most destructive typhoon of the season expected to hit late Saturday.
Scotland rugby officials have confirmed they’re contemplating legal action against World Rugby if the game is canceled and Scotland is deprived of a chance to play for a quarterfinal spot.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Darcy Graham, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (captain); Blade Thomson, Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury, Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Willem Nel, Fraser Brown, Allan Dell. Reserves: Stuart McInally, Gordon Reid, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Ryan Wilson, George Horne, Pete Horne, Blair Kinghorn.
Cheslin Kolbe sat out a Springboks training session on Friday and coach Rassie Erasmus says the exciting wing is “still nursing” a twisted left ankle from the win over Italy a week ago.
Kolbe was meant to be back in action by now but his recovery is going slower than expected. Erasmus said there’s an 80-90% chance Kolbe will be back in full training on Monday. South Africa still has nine days prep time before the quarterfinals.
Loose forward Francois Louw and scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies also missed training.
Louw has a few bumps and bruises and a swollen knee, Erasmus said, and was “at that age where after every game, he takes a little bit longer (to recover).”
Jantjies might be the biggest worry. The backup scrumhalf has a hamstring strain and Erasmus was asked if he was considering calling a new No. 9 into the squad. Erasmus said not yet but he was “a little bit nervous” over the youngster.
The Springboks were back on the training field after getting two days off to explore Japan, and Erasmus said they were slow getting back to business.
“You could see in the training session, in the first 5-10 minutes, they were still switched off a bit,” he said.
Tonga captain Siale Piutau says he’s retiring from international rugby after the game against the United States on Sunday. It’ll also be his 34th birthday.
Piutau made the announcement in front of reporters as Tonga named its team for its last match in Japan.
He says it’s so he can spend more time with his family: “I’ve been away three months and my kids are at an age when I think it’s important to have a father figure at home.”
Piutau will continue to play for English club Bristol. The center has 42 test caps for Tonga and has been to three Rugby World Cups. He was part of the Tonga team that beat France at the 2011 World Cup.
Tonga will go all out against the U.S. to take a victory away from this World Cup. The last time the Tongans failed to win a game at the tournament was 2003.
Piutau says, “I’m not putting the focus on myself but I want to leave the team on a high, that’s my priority.”
United States captain Blaine Scully has been selected to play his 11th Rugby World Cup game and equal the U.S. record.
Scully leads a team with three changes for the last Pool C game against Tonga in Osaka on Sunday.
The three switches are Nick Civetta in for Nate Brakeley at lock, Malon Al-Jiboori in for Hanco Germishuys at flanker, and Will Hooley in for Mike Te’o at fullback. Hooley returns after sustaining a concussion in the Americans’ opening game against England.
The U.S. lost 45-7 to England, 33-9 to France and 47-17 to Argentina in a tough pool. Tonga is the U.S.′ best chance of a first World Cup win since 2011.
United States: Will Hooley, Blaine Scully (captain), Bryce Campbell, Paul Lasike, Marcel Brache, AJ MacGinty, Ruben de Haas; Cam Dolan, Malon Al-Jiboori, Tony Lamborn, Nick Civetta, Greg Peterson, Titi Lamositele, Joe Taufete’e, Eric Fry. Reserves: James Hilterbrand, Olive Kilifi,, Paul Mullen, Ben Landry, Hanco Germishuys, Ben Pinkelman, Nate Augspurger, Mike Te’o.
Star wing Kenki Fukuoka finally starts for Japan in the quarterfinal decider against Scotland on Sunday in Yokohama after he tore a calf muscle five weeks ago.
Fukuoka was a late, forced inclusion in the reserves against Ireland and scored the match-winning try, and scored another try off the bench against Samoa last Saturday. He’s back as a starter among four changes to the starting lineup.
Hooker Shota Horie, lock Luke Thompson, and fullback William Tupou are recalled.
Fukuoka, Horie, and Thompson, along with prop Keita Inagaki, captain Michael Leitch, flyhalf Yu Tamura and wing Kotaro Matsushima repeat as starters against Scotland from the 2015 Rugby World Cup match which the Scots won 45-10 to cost Japan a place in the quarterfinals.
Japan: William Tupou, Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Kenki Fukuoka, Yu Tamura, Yutaka Nagare; Kazuki Himeno, Pieter Labuschagne, Michael Leitch (captain), James Moore, Luke Thompson, Jiwon Koo, Shota Horie, Keita Inagaki. Reserves: Atsushi Sakate, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Ai Valu, Uwe Helu, Hendrik Tui, Fumiaki Tanaka, Rikiya Matsuda, Ryohei Yamanaka.
New Zealand lock Sam Whitelock has sympathized with Italy captain Sergio Parisse blasting Rugby World Cup organizers for their pool match being cancelled because of Typhoon Hagibis without a backup plan.
Parisse believed Italy was disrespected, and their match in Toyota scheduled for Saturday when the typhoon should hit, would not have been cancelled if the defending champion All Blacks needed the points to reach the quarterfinals. Italy missed out.
“It is ridiculous that there was no Plan B, because it isn’t news that typhoons hit Japan,” Parisse said on Friday. “We had the chance to play in a big stadium, against a great team. The alternative is Plan B. When you organize a World Cup you should have one in place. Sure, if Italy and New Zealand decide they don’t want to play then fine, but if New Zealand needed the points, it wouldn’t have been cancelled.”
Whitelock, who has never been in a typhoon, understood where Parisse was coming from.
“It’s a bit of frustration coming out,” he said.
Whitelock has dealt with cancelled games before, when Crusaders Super Rugby home matches in Christchurch were called off in 2011 because of the deadly earthquake, and last March after the deadly Mosque shootings.
“In both instances you understand why,” Whitelock said.
“Rugby’s just a small thing. We tend to get carried away with it a little bit, we’re so passionate about rugby, and we always want to go out and play, but sometimes the right thing is not playing. There would be nothing worse than if we did play and people were getting hurt.”
Just five days after being hammered by South Africa, Canada limited its changes to five for its last pool match against Namibia on Sunday in Kamaishi.
Loosehead prop Djustice Sears-Duru comes out of the reserves, Eric Howard is at hooker, and Conor Keys replaces Kyle Baillie at lock in the forwards.
Gordon McRorie displaces Phil Mack at scrumhalf, and Pat Parfrey is at fullback with Andrew Coe in the reserves.
Canada is on a 10-match winless streak in Rugby World Cups dating to 2011.
Namibia is trying to win its first World Cup match ever, after 22 straight defeats over 20 years.
Canada: Pat Parfrey, Jeff Hassler, Conor Trainor, Ciaran Hearn, DTH van der Merwe, Peter Nelson, Gordon McRorie; Tyler Ardron (captain), Matt Heaton, Lucas Rumball, Conor Keys, Evan Olmstead, Jake Ilnicky, Eric Howard, Djustice Sears-Duru. Reserves: Andrew Quattrin, Hubert Buydens, Matt Tierney, Luke Campbell, Dustin Dobravsky, Jamie Mackenzie, Shane O’Leary, Andrew Coe.
Coach Toutai Kefu has made three changes to his starting lineup as Tonga seeks to end its Rugby World Cup with a win.
Tighthead prop Siua Halanukonuka and wings Viliami Lolohea and ’Ateli Pakalani are into the team against the United States in Osaka on Sunday.
Flanker Sione Kalamafoni and captain Siale Piutau will also set a new Tonga record by appearing in their 12th Rugby World Cup games.
Tonga has lost to England, Argentina and France in Pool C. The United States is also winless in three games in Japan.
Tonga and the U.S. last met in 2016, a 20-17 win for Tonga. Tonga has won eight of their nine meetings.
Tonga: Telusa Veainu, ’Atieli Pakalani, Malietoa Hingano, Siale Piutau (captain), Viliami Lolohea, James Faiva, Sonatane Takulua; Maama Vaipulu, Zane Kapeli, Sione Kalamafoni, Halaleva Fifita, Sam Lousi, Siua Halanukonuka, Paula Ngauamo, Siegfried Fisi’ihoi. Reserves: Siua Maile, Vunipola Fifita, Ma’afu Fia, Dan Faleafa, Nasi Manu, Leon Fukofuka, Latiume Fosita, David Halaifonua.
Flanker Justin Tipuric will captain Wales for the first time in a starting lineup with 13 changes for their last pool match against Uruguay on Sunday in Kumamoto.
A cleanout was expected with the match just four days after Wales edged Fiji 29-17 in Oita to advance to the quarterfinals.
Only inside center Hadleigh Parkes and Josh Adams, swapped from the left to the right wing, start again. Adams scored three tries against Fiji.
Unbeaten Wales likely need to beat Uruguay to win Pool D ahead of Australia.
With Dan Biggar unavailable after a head knock, Wales picked scrumhalves Tomos Williams and Gareth Davies as cover for the entire backline.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Adams, Owen Watkin, Hadleigh Parkes, Hallam Amos, Rhys Patchell, Aled Davies; Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric (captain), Aaron Shingler, Adam Beard, Bradley Davies, Dillon Lewis, Ryan Elias, Nicky Smith. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones, Jake Ball, Ross Moriarty, James Davies, Tomos Williams, Gareth Davies.
Australia and Georgia meet for the first time in their last pool match in the Rugby World Cup on Friday in Shizuoka.
It’s expected to rain during the evening match about 180 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, with the approach of Typhoon Hagibis up the eastern coast of Japan.
The Wallabies have already qualified for the quarterfinals after beating Fiji and Uruguay but still have a chance to top Pool D. They need to beat the Lelos, with a handy four-try bonus point, to put some pressure on unbeaten Wales to beat Uruguay on Sunday.
Australia has never lost two pool matches.
Georgia, which has beaten only Uruguay, is trying to win two pool matches for only the second time, and claim third place from Fiji and an automatic qualifying spot for the 2023 tournament in France. The Lelos have never beaten a Tier One team.