Andy Farrell would have happily sacrificed a heavier deficit in the points difference column in exchange for a victory over Japan but if Ireland can return to form this Saturday it will have meant the lessons of that shock defeat have been learned.
On the face of it, Ireland’s total of 22 points conceded in three games at the World Cup so far trails only England’s tally of 20 heading into the final weekend of pool games and is matched only by New Zealand. That should be music to the ears of defence coach Farrell, Ireland’s head coach in waiting as Joe Schmidt enters his final lap after nearly seven years at the helm.
Yet he is a pragmatist and if Ireland are to emerge as contenders alongside the former and current world champions over the coming weeks then improvements are going to have to be made in every facet of their play, including defensively.
Defeat to Japan 10 days ago still stings, with a less than fluent bonus-point win over Russia last Thursday scant consolation as Ireland turns the page to their final Pool A encounter against Samoa in Fukuoka this Saturday.
In that context, only 22 points conceded matters little to Farrell when 19 of them came in defeat to the Brave Blossoms.
“Well, I would certainly take 100 s**t points and three wins,” he said yesterday after Ireland had returned to training after a weekend off at their new base on the northern shores of Japan’s Kyushu Island.
“Points don’t mean much really. I have said before as well about the number of tries. We have had one scored against us; am I happy with that? I think our performances can be better and hopefully, they will be better when it matters.
“We are always looking to improve and get better. There are certain aspects of our defensive game that has been strong, physical and asking questions of the opposition. There have been certain aspects of that, that have been below those standards as well.
Staying concentrated was certainly an issue five days before Ireland met the Russians in Kobe.
Buoyant after beating Scotland 27-3 in Yokohama, they travelled to Shizuoka and raced into a 12-3 lead only to switch off and contribute to their own downfall in a home victory celebrated around the world.
Farrell yesterday demanded a return to the next-moment focus that had been the making of the Irish team in 2018 but has gone missing at crucial points throughout this year and the current World Cup campaign.
Asked what was needed from this weekend’s performance at Fukuoka’s Hakatanomori Stadium, Farrell replied: “A bit of fluidity to our all-round game.
“In the last couple of games there has been a bit of access given to the opposition through not just one area of the game but quite a few areas. I think Rory (Best) spoke pretty well last week regarding our performance against Scotland and what we were good at.
"We have been renowned for that type of game where it doesn’t really matter what has happened in the past whether it be a second ago or five minutes ago. We have normally been a side that prides ourselves on staying in the moment and we are hoping to get back to that at the weekend.”
Farrell is certain that his side will not have it all their own way this weekend for although Samoa are heading home regardless of the result following defeats to Japan and Scotland, their stubborn resistance until late on against the Brave Blossoms last Saturday and some tough refereeing calls against them make the Pacific islanders a dangerous prospect.
“They are a threatening side. I think if you want to go back to their game against Australia, you can see what type of style of play that they want to play.
“Everyone thinks that they are big and physical and you’ve got to win some contacts against them or hang on in there in some contacts against them but they are a lot more than that. They are an expansive side that plays very wide. They have got skill to be able to do that and as individuals, their footwork tends to be great as well.
“On the back of winning the collisions, if you don’t end up doing that, their offloading game comes into it as well. They have got good shape on both sides of the ball — on attack, they play to the short sides quite a bit and have had good success. They are a dangerous team all round.”