They battle to hold onto their ninth place Section A finish following last Friday’s last round of pool games.
Ireland’s 31-5 loss to South Africa left them fourth from bottom in the section and forced Charlie McAleese’s side into the 9th-12th place play-offs, which start today.
Ireland play Japan in the 9th v 12th match in Shaw’s Bridge (7:30pm). Japan finished bottom of Section A after losses to Argentina, New Zealand and Samoa. Fiji play Scotland in the 10th v 11th match at Belfast Harlequins (7:30pm) with the winners from these two ties going into the 9th-12th play-off final on Saturday at Ravenhill.
Samoa’s win over Japan deprived Ireland a position in the 5th-8th place play-offs, though arguably Ireland’s performances to date hardly merited a placing in the lower echelons of
“I don’t want to sound like sour grapes, but I think our playing performances probably merit a place in the middle four,” said McAleese.
“And, as host nation, it’d have been nice to be there. I think the middle four would have been an apt reward for the efforts against Australia and South Africa.”
Yesterday, McAleese again called on the IRFU for a reassessment of the development of Ireland’s mid-to-late teens if this country is to compete on a more even playing field with the SANZAR nations — three of whom are competing the semi-finals today.
“The IRFU have stated they want to be a top four nation, but it appears to me there’s no other way to go other than specialist coaching. The coaches in schools deserve tremendous credit but they’re not the specialists we need to cater for this age group at this level.
“A lot of our young players play most of their rugby in schools, and schools provide the base for Irish rugby as well as the clubs — but traditionally they have provided the guts of the better players. Whatever steps are taken by the political men they have to be discreet and understanding.
“It just strikes me that the better players from about fifteen need to be working at a higher level of intensity both in the gym and on the pitch. It only kicks in here at the age of eighteen with the academy system.”
McAleese has made several changes both in personal and position, with the backline and front row undergoing radical surgery. Outside centre Eoin O’Malley takes over at out half from Scott Deasy, while Kris Greene replaces Harry McAleese at scrumhalf.
Jamie Smith moves from full back to outside centre, with Niall Morris, who had to pull out of the South Africa match on the day of the game due to a foot injury, selected at 15.
The entire front row of the pack has been changed with Ian Leonard, Michael Sherry and Matthew Nelson replacing Paul Karayiannis, Stephen Douglas and Patrick McCabe respectively.
“We’re trying to get a message to the boys that if we’re not on top of our game, then we will look stupid in this game.”
IRELAND (v Japan): N Morris (Blackrock College RFC); A Gaughan (Buccaneers), J Smith (Ballymena), M Kinsella (Newtown School, Waterford), P Brophy (St.
Michael’s College); E O’Malley (UCD), K Greene (St. Mary’s College RFC); I Leonard (St. Michael’s College), M Sherry (Ard Scoil Rís) M Nelson (Ballynahinch); D Foley (UL Bohemian), I Nagle (Glenstal Abbey); P Mallon (St. Michael’s College), R Reilly (St. Michael’s College), P Ryan (captain) (Blackrock College RFC).
Replacements: S Douglas (Ballymena), P Karayiannis (RBAI/Queens), P McCabe (Dublin University FC), B Cawley (UCD), K Essex (Christian Brothers College, Cork/UCC), H McAleese (Ballynahinch), S Deasy (Presentation Brothers College, Cork), T Seymour (Down High School), C Cleary (St. Michael’s College), A Craig (Instonians), J Harris-Wright (Blackrock College)