Captain Best: No complacency from Ireland this time
FUKUOKA, Japan (AP) — Ireland won’t get complacent this time before playing in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals.
An early loss to host Japan, and a knockout match against either tournament favorite New Zealand or two-time champion South Africa next weekend will see to that.
If it doesn’t, then veteran captain Rory Best will be delivering some sharp reminders.
“We know it’s knockouts and we said a couple of weeks ago after the Japanese game that we learned our lesson,” Best said. “The last two World Cups I’ve been involved at, we weren’t quite where we thought we were.”
Ireland was rolling a bit too smoothly, Best recalled, and got somewhat ahead of themselves after the group stage.
In 2011, Ireland beat two-time champion Australia 15-6 in the group stage and then lost 22-10 to Wales. In 2015, the Irish beat three-time World Cup finalist France 24-9 to top their group but were then thumped 43-20 by Argentina.
“We rolled through two pool stages where we didn’t lose a game and we were full of confidence. Maybe looking back now, maybe (there was) a little bit of over confidence,” said Best, who led Ireland for the 37th time in the 47-5 win over Samoa on Saturday. “It’s really important to think, right, ’what stone did we leave unturned?” It’s got to be all about rugby this week — ultimately it’s about going to a quarterfinal and winning it. You don’t get a second chance.”
If Scotland fails to beat Japan later Sunday, Ireland will finish second in Pool A behind the Japanese and face three-time champion New Zealand next Saturday. If the Scots win, Ireland will play two-time champion South Africa on Sunday.
“They’re too world-class teams and we’re going to have to produce our best rugby,” Best said.
Both sides are formidable opponents at any time, let alone when they’re fresh and rested.
South Africa’s final Pool B game was on Tuesday, and New Zealand didn’t have to play Italy on Saturday because that match was called off because of the super typhoon — Typhoon Hagibis — impacting parts of the country.
Whoever they play, Ireland’s squad has significantly less time to prepare. Furthermore, they played for more than 50 minutes with 14 men in Saturday’s against Samoa after center Bundee Aki’s first-half red cad.
Battle-hardened for the challenge ahead, yes, but a little bit fatigued, too — and possibly missing a key player.
“It’s enough work that we got through but at the same time it was a lot of work (against Samoa),” Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said. “It probably just squeezes up our preparation. We might need another day or so to recover.”
Aki got a red card for a dangerous high tackle, after video review ruled he led with his shoulder into the face of Samoa flyhalf Ulupano Seuteni. It was a record-extending seventh red card of a tournament where referees are under huge pressure to penalize high tackles.
It means Aki could be suspended for the rest of the tournament. He faces a disciplinary hearing on Monday night.
“It’s a really tough situation,” Schmidt said. “I think Bundee is upright, you can see both his hands are behind the shoulder blades of the player who is just starting to come up. It’s all split-second stuff.”
Schmidt is preparing himself not to have Bundee available.
“We live in hope and we’ll see. Once it’s a red card you sense a loss of control over what happens next, no matter what you try to present,” he said. “We’d both be pretty disappointed if Bundee does get ruled out of the rest of the tournament off the back of that tackle.”
Still, Schmidt is delighted to count on a fit squad. Unlike four years ago, when Ireland entered the Argentina clash without standout flyhalf Johnny Sexton and several other players injured.
“It was a concertina effect for us last time ... We’ve got a better body count (this time). I would say we’ve got 31 fit players at this stage,” he said.
Schdmit, who is a New Zealander, coached Ireland to its first victory against the All Blacks three years ago — a 40-29 win in Chicago ending a 111-year wait. Ireland won again last year, 16-9 in Dublin.
But if the teams do meet again next weekend, he’s under no illusions what to expect. In topping Pool B, the All Blacks beat South Africa 23-13 and then crushed Canada 63-0 and Namibia 71-9.
“The All Blacks are a sort of team you could play at your best and still not quite get the result. They weren’t No. 1 in the world for 10 years and back-to-back World Cup winners for no reason,” Schmidt said.
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