Backs against the wall and needing a bonus-point win over Samoa to stay in this World Cup, Ireland have been urged to back their skills and go after the Pacific Islanders here on Saturday.
This was not the endgame to Pool A that anyone was expecting thanks to the upset by host nation Japan 11 days ago.
Somewhere along the route to the quarter-finals, Ireland lost their way but they have an opportunity this weekend to get back on track and forwards coach Simon Easterby believes the only way to rectify the collective waywardness is to shed the hesitancy and anxiety that has inflicted the squad since surrendering a 12-3 lead to Japan midway through the first half in Shizuoka.
Easterby wants a return to the confident and assured Ireland that swatted Scotland aside 27-3 in their opening game on September 22 and was carried into the Japan game with two tries inside 20 minutes, only to be switched off with disastrous consequences.
The 35-0 win over Russia was still wracked by a lack of fluency last Thursday in Kobe and the Ireland management are hoping the nine-day turnaround to Samoa that began with a weekend off for the players can help to restore the spring in the step that has been missing for the last 140 minutes of rugby.
“I think there’s always that nervousness if you haven’t quite got what you’ve wanted,” Easterby said.
“But I think maybe in the Japanese game, we got a little bit predictable at times and we got a little bit hesitant on the ball.What we’ve got to do is back our skills but also back what we’ve talked about already, about the fundamental things that have stood us in really good stead when we’ve played big teams and when we’ve played in tournaments and gone to places and won series.
“We haven’t stepped back, we haven’t been hesitant, we’ve gone in there and gone after a team and I think that has to be the case this weekend. We’ve seen it in patches but I don’t think we’ve seen it enough.
“I think that’s something we’re aware of but it’s something that is an easy fix as well.”
If Ireland are to progress to the knockout stages they will need this Saturday’s game to deliver that return to form and provide a springboard into a quarter-final against either New Zealand or South Africa. And if the ambition to go beyond the last eight for the first time at a World Cup is to be achieved then Ireland must rediscover the consistently high levels of performance that made them worldbeaters in 2018 but have deserted them throughout this calendar year.
Easterby recognised that to win a World Cup from here on in, it will need four such performances in as many weeks.
“Yeah, of course. I think very rarely do you play the perfect game, even in 2018, when we did what we did, I don’t think we were perfect every game. Now, you get a bit of momentum and that can continue through two, three, four games and I think that’s the disappointing thing after the Scottish result and performance when we didn’t continue that (momentum).
“I think that if we get to this weekend and we hit the ground running there’s certainly no reason why we can’t continue that momentum through the rest of the tournament but we have to be able to put those fundamental things in our game and get them right nearly every time.
“You can’t just be on every now and then because, against good teams like Samoa and stronger teams we might play throughout the tournament, you just can’t afford to do it.”
Easterby insisted Ireland were mentally ready for such a challenge, as well the need to put in a statement performance against the Samoans.
“We’re going to have to perform well to win so let’s hope that we perform well and that results in a win.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the group that doesn’t believe that we’re not good enough to get through and make a real mark on this tournament still. There’s been lots written and spoken and debated about some of the performances and rightly so because some of them haven’t been good enough but I’m a firm believer in having the opportunity to go and challenge ourselves and still make a mark.
“Confidence is not an issue but we still have to go there and perform and make sure that we build a performance on the weekend so that we can then take confidence from that, going into potentially a quarter-final.”