Easterby: Physical Ireland must wipe smile off Samoan faces

Easterby: Physical Ireland must wipe smile off Samoan faces
Simon Easterby. Picture: Sportsfile

While it is 16 years since Simon Easterby went toe to toe with Samoa, Ireland’s forwards coach knows the threats they will bring this Saturday are familiar weapons in the armoury of the Pacific Islanders.

Easterby was part of the Ireland team which beat Samoa 40-14 in stifling heat and humidity on tour in Asia in 2003 and he remembers it vividly, He sees comparisons with Steve Jackson’s 2019 outfit as he plots their downfall as a coach in Japan instead of from the back row.

“I think Brian Lima played and cut Girvan Dempsey in half,” former flanker Easterby said with a chuckle. “It was so hot that day. And probably 90%t humidity.

“But we’ve seen already that they look to go after teams without the ball and they look to play on the front foot with the ball. We don’t think it will be any different this weekend.

“This is their opportunity to put one over us and they’ll probably see some chinks in our armour that the Japanese and the Russians found.”

The consensus in the Ireland camp is that after a trying pool campaign which has seen Samoa lose to Scotland and Japan, their opponents will be looking to bow out of this World Cup with heads held high after one last push to make a positive mark on the tournament.

“We have to be prepared for that physical side of the game,” Easterby said.

“They are big hitters, they’re big men but they can also play a bit. And we found out certainly in that Test in Apia, it wasn’t all plain sailing. We did win eventually but we had a few casualties along the way.

They’re a team people enjoy to watch as well. Like the Fijians and the Tongans they go and play with a smile on their faces. We need to make sure we don’t allow them to enjoy themselves too much at the weekend.

Easterby cited some feistiness and “an edge” during Ireland’s training sessions this week as players were alive to the fact that the team for this Pool A finale would not be a straightforward selection for the management.

“I think that’s exactly what you want, isn’t it? You want to come to a World Cup with 31 players who are all challenging for starting spots and if they don’t get in the starting team there is a bit of disappointment and there is a bit of an edge and there is a bit of ‘I’ll show you I can be the one’.

“This week presents 15 guys with the opportunity to go and perform. Last week there were a number of guys who stood up really well.

“They may get another chance, they may not, but it certainly puts us in a good place if guys are not accepting they’re not involved in the 15 or in the match-day 23.

“I think that’s got to happen. That’s got to be healthy for the rest of the squad, and I think that’s always been the mark of this group.

Ireland training. Picture: Sportsfile
Ireland training. Picture: Sportsfile

“Certainly in my time, there’s been challenges in most positions; especially upfront, there’s very little sometimes to choose between players at lock and in the back-row in particular, where there’s plenty of options to select other players.

“But we have to make sure that guys who do get selected this week put down that marker because there are still some players who are chomping at the bit to get in the side.”

Ireland’s forwards coach is hopeful that added bite in training can translate to an improved performance this Saturday, particularly at the breakdown where there were problems, especially in the loss to Japan.

“I think we’ve had our moments. I’d say without the ball we’ve been pretty good and we’ve turned over a good few number of balls and been effective in there.

“I think on the attack side there has been a couple of occasions, particularly in the Japanese game, when we didn’t quite get our contact right.

“But that has to be across the board, it’s not like it was 30 years ago when it was just the number seven or number six’s job to clean out rucks; Jeez I think that was all I did when I played, I hardly carried a ball.

But I think the game has changed significantly, everybody has got to do every role. So it’s not about the back row, it’s not about the tight five, everyone has to be able to do it. You saw Garry Ringrose clean out one (against Russia).

“Garry’s got great energy but he’s got great technique and great power in that metre to metre-and-a-half space between him and where he wants to take that threat, and I think we see that across the board now.

“Everyone’s got to be able to do those fundamental things and do them well against teams of this quality.”

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