Seeing Joe Schmidt is happy to do so, let’s start with Jack Carty. Even as recently as a week ago, if an Irish team to face the World Cup hosts had been named with Jack at 10, the general reaction might be best characterised by raised eyebrows.
After 26 minutes against Scotland last Sunday, the selection of the Connacht man against Japan is pretty much: Jack Carty starts? Yeah, I’m ok with that.
Timing isn’t an important thing, it’s thething really. Coaches have data and statistics coming out their ears, but there’s often nothing as reliable as the eyes and the gut. Joe gets to watch his players work every day of the week and his sense of Carty looked bang on in Yokohama.
Were that the only decision that lies ahead for Ireland’s management.
For tomorrow’s second pool game there is still no Robbie Henshaw or Bundee Aki.
That creates intriguing possibilities in the centre. Garry Ringrose and Chris Farrell have done very well, and if they retain their Scotland form, might Joe, as he tends to, go with form and possession of the jersey and keep them in the starting slots.
It would be a huge call for a World Cup quarter-final but leaving aside the warm-up game against Wales earlier in the month, the Henshaw-Aki partnership has been on ice since Australia over a year ago. Robbie has played eight of Ireland’s last 25 tests, and one of those was at full-back.
I think Joe got a bit of a rocket from Chris Farrell’s performance last Sunday.
The head coach will have got massive satisfaction in terms of his own metrics of a good rugby performance — sharp, aggressive, good ball presentation, good decision-making. Farrell was like a magnet to the ball.
Johnny Sexton has played only 400-odd minutes since the All Blacks win last November but fitness permitting, he is going to start a World Cup quarter-final.
That being the case, he will need form centres outside him. How many of the backline are ready to go full throttle against the Springboks? How many can you risk? Can Ireland go with a backline in a quarter-final that includes Johnny, Henshaw, Aki, Kearney, Earls?
That’s why timing is everything and a double-edged dilemma for the Irish management. How much of a nod do they give to the experience of big-game players and how much do they go with fellas who are flying in training and games — Farrell, Conway, Larmour?
You’d be hoping some of these issues iron themselves out over the coming three weeks but they are ones to keep an eye on.
And they add significance now on the selections for the Russia game next Thursday and the final pool fixture against Samoa.
For the likes of Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour, the next three games are the shop window towards a World Cup quarter-final start.
I am surprised Johnny Sexton is not involved for Japan, but then I am not in the Irish camp.
He is obviously not happy with something. His omission is the first opportunity to get Joey Carbery involved.
The Munster 10 clearly wasn’t ready for Scotland, so it is a big call with him too. Maybe management’s hands have been forced a little bit.
The most important game for Carbery is the quarter-final so ideally, he gets through tomorrow, gets a week’s full training under his belt and starts one of the last two games — ideally Samoa.
Ireland will look to go really hard against Russia and maybe mix up the selection for the Samoa game. It won’t be lost on management either that in terms of the physical aspects, the last game will be quite similar to what they will face against the Springboks.
From a team standpoint, possibly the best thing to come out of Yokohama last Sunday was the miserly three points conceded to Scotland. That creates a mindset of its own.
I’d be shocked if Japan accumulate more than 15 points tomorrow.
With a dry ball, they will improve on their opening Russian performance, they are at home and they might force a charge down, or a breakaway try might rattle Ireland, but even that will serve our lads better in the long run.
Don’t be surprised if the hosts were keeping something up their sleeves for Scotland. On that basis, they will do well to keep within 20 points of Ireland.
Something Cian Healy said (inadvertently or otherwise) in the post-match remarks after last Sunday intrigued me. There was a subtle change in approach against Scotland which he appeared to confirm when he mentioned Ireland’s ability to play heads up rugby.
They don’t tend to use that sort of language which suggests a shift in mindset where the Irish players were very conscious of playing the ball out of the tackle and playing more of an offload game.
After the alarm call at Twickenham, there might have been the realisation they needed to be a bit more dangerous off turnover ball and chance their arm a little. If Ireland can deliver a proper blend of structured and unstructured rugby, it will take a very good team to put them down.
If Pools A and B are playing out in the way we envisaged, the other two pools still have a sense of doubt about them.
The kids were out early last Saturday with the Academy at La Rochelle when the pavilion erupted at the final whistle of France’s nail-biting win over Argentina. It was a moment that changed the shape of the Pool C with Fickou’s indiscretion and Bofelli’s opportunity to snatch the victory for the Pumas.
I know there’s no logical reason to say this, much less repeat it, but France are dangerous now. They will be on a three-match winning run by the time they face England in the final pool game (with USA and Tonga to come), and there is barely even a context to assess how much of an asset that will be.
When was the last time France won three games in-a-row?
If they beat England, they have a few specimens who will rattle the best teams in the competition — and certainly either Wales or Australia.
But I have not come across a spectrum of human behaviour like France’s, with the facility to go from 0% engagement to being 100% fully committed, which the French group appears to be now. It is truly bizarre.
They are all onside with Galthie and the game plan, there is a good atmosphere in the camp. Watch out.
Of course, with French rugby there is always a ‘but’. And I am not sure who will drive it from the quarter-final. Will Romain N’tamack or Camille Lopez grab a hold of the situation? You wonder.
Pool D will take on a defined shape in Tokyo on Sunday when Wales and Australia meet. Snapping a 13-game losing streak to the Wallabies is one thing. Whether it helps Wales this time, I am not sure. If the formbook suggests Warren Gatland’s side wins, it doesn’t take stock of Australia’s ability to put issues to the side and deliver World Cup performance.
Cheika is a good coach with a good read on the Welsh. The referee is France’s Roman Poite. No-one can really judge at this stage whether a northern hemisphere interpretation of the laws of the game is a help or hindrance to Super Rugby nations.
The Wallabies will be briefed on areas like the breakdown, but they will still be scratching their heads at the inconsistency of application in this area.
It is not a criticism of Poite to say he will interpret some laws in a different way than it would be down under.
If Australia can handle that, I fancy them.