Sexton: Pool in our hands
WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT: Ireland coach Joe Schmidt insisted his side “got the performance we needed” after reviving their World Cup campaign with an unconvincing 35-0 win over rank outsiders Russia.
The Irish were in desperate need of a victory after their shock 19-12 defeat by Japan last time out and, even though the New Zealander made 11 charges to his side, they managed a bonus-point success over Russia on Thursday.
But they struggled with the humid conditions under the closed roof of the Kobe Misaki Stadium, the fourth of their five tries that secured a bonus point not arriving until after the hour-mark.
Ireland, however, now have a nine-day break until they play Samoa in their final Pool A match and victory over the Pacific islanders would set up a quarterfinal with either reigning world champions New Zealand or South Africa.
“I do think you’ve got to take it one game at a time, particularly after we lost last week,” said Schmidt.
“We will set our sights on Samoa because we need to win there to have a chance of qualifying.
“In the end when you get to a quarterfinal, everything hinges on the quarterfinal itself,” the New Zealander, in charge of the Ireland side beaten 20-43 by Argentina in the last eight of the 2015 World Cup, explained.
“One thing I learnt from last time is that you can be on an upswing going into a World Cup but if you’ve got injuries or you’ve got a little bit of a confidence hit because you’ve got a number of new guys in… we made 11 changes today and we got the performance we needed,” insisted Schmidt.
Schmidt’s side arrived in Japan as the top-ranked team in world rugby and beat old rivals Scotland 27-3 in their Pool A opener, before their stunning upset at the hands of Japan.
Thursday’s match saw Jonathan Sexton, captaining Ireland for the first time, return after he missed the Japan defeat with a thigh injury.
The flyhalf converted first-half tries scored by Rob Kearney, Peter O’Mahony and Rhys Ruddock but the World Player of the Year went off at half-time and was later seen icing his leg.
‘Pool in our hands’
Sexton, asked if Ireland were where they needed to be in order to beat either the All Blacks or the Springboks, replied: “It’s very hard to say after a game like that.
“After Scotland we felt we were in a brilliant place, after Japan we were pretty low,” he added.
“Today, we did a job and we were very pleased to get the job done and to keep the pool in our hands so to speak in terms of our qualification for the quarterfinal.”
As for the injury-prone Sexton playing just the 40 minutes on Thursday, Schmidt said: “Johnny’s all good.”
Jordi Murphy, who only received a World Cup call-up after Jack Conan was ruled out of the tournament with a broken foot, was himself helped off the pitch after 26 minutes to add to the Irish casualty list.
Murphy has “got squeezed in the ribs, he may have popped a rib. We are going to get him checked out,” said Schmidt.
Russia have now lost all three of their matches at this World Cup but they made life difficult for Ireland and proud captain Vasily Artemyev, educated at Dublin’s Blackrock College and University College, said: “It’s already an achievement for us that we managed to trouble Ireland – they could not score for about 20 minutes in the second half.”