Like it or not, last weekend’s typhoon-related cancellations in the final round of World Cup pool games have given us some inequitable quarter-final match-ups in terms of preparation times for the protagonists.
For all the politicking going on behind the scenes about the fairness of playing or not playing decisive games, there was little argument that with super-typhoon Hagibis barrelling towards Japan’s eastern seaboard safety concerns were paramount in the minds of organisers with more than just the teams and their qualification aspirations among their duty of care requirements.
The bottom line is that when Ireland face New Zealand on Saturday at Tokyo Stadium, the former will have had seven days between games while the latter will have had 13 days following the cancellation of the defending champions’ final pool game against Italy, which had been scheduled for City of Toyota Stadium on Saturday just as Hagibis was at its peak on the Japanese mainland.
Likewise, England’s Pool C clash with France in Yokohoma was also set for Saturday but cancelled, giving Eddie Jones’s side a 14-day turnaround to their quarter-final clash with Australia, the Wallabies having played their final pool game against Georgia last Friday.
Yet while it seems an advantage to have a longer lead-in to the knockout stages, not every coach will have welcomed a weekend off and chief of those has to be Ireland’s Joe Schmidt, whose side were out of the typhoon’s firing line in sunny Fukuoka and benefited enormously from the opportunity to gather some momentum with a return to form in the 47-5 victory over Samoa.
Head coach Schmidt saw both sides of the argument over whether it is better to play or not play as he balanced getting a weekend off against gearing up for a World Cup quarter-final by getting a game under his players’ belts.
‘It’s one of those conundrums really,” Schmidt said.
“It’s enough work that we got through and hopefully it will stand to us. It was a lot of work, the forwards particularly really muscled up well and had to work really hard. That’s a little bit attritional but it’s something they enjoy doing anyway. Well, they do at the time anyway, probably in the morning, they feel the effects of it.
“So, for us, it would be really important to recover well and it probably just squeezed up our preparation, whereas either of the opponents that we’ll have, they’ll watch (the Japan-Scotland) game, see the result, know who they’re playing but in the meantime they’ll be ready to hit the ground running. We might need another day or so to recover.”
Of course, it all depends on how you use your newly freed-up time and as you would expect from the defending champions, Steve Hansen put his All Blacks to work before Hagibis intervened.
“Having a week off is not a bad thing,” Hansen declared. “We’re quite excited by that fact. It’s allowed us to work really hard Friday.
“GPS numbers were equivalent or just above what a normal Test match would be so we don’t feel like we’ve lost any opportunity to get ourselves where we need to be.”
On Saturday, the All Blacks hunkered down in the safety of their Tokyo hotel, as skipper Kieran Read explained on Sunday. They seem content with the cards they were dealt. As do Ireland. Horses for courses, then, and for a change, everybody’s happy.