Such has been the heat on Ireland this week in the aftermath of their embarrassing loss to Japan that there will be few complaints at the short turnaround from last Saturday’s debacle in Shizuoka.
Just five days on from the worst defeat of Joe Schmidt’s six-year tenure as head coach and one of the national team’s lowest moments in their Rugby World Cup history, Ireland get the chance to reignite their 2019 campaign with the lowest-ranked of their Pool A rivals.
It will be heat of a different kind, actual heat and humidity under the roof of Kobe Misaki Stadium, that will provide the biggest challenge in today’s contest against 20th-ranked Russia. Five match points against a side beaten by Connacht and the Jersey Reds in pre-season are not just hoped for but expected.
Having lost to both the hosts and Samoa in quick succession, and with Monday night’s 34-0 Scotland victory over the Pacific Islanders at the same stadium still fresh in the memory, Russian head coach Lyn Jones effectively admitted during his team announcement press conference on Tuesday that his side’s main ambition was simply to get points on the board rather than follow Japan’s example and upset the odds.
This, then, is not a contest that will offer Ireland redemption in any shape or form, it is too much of a mismatch for that.
Yet nor will there be any complacency in the approach of a team captained for the first time by Johnny Sexton.
Having been sucked back into now wide-open pool competition, this much-changed Irish team has the opportunity to get its quarter-final bid back on track here and as defence coach Andy Farrell said yesterday, restore not just pride but the performance levels demanded by management and supporters alike.
Last Saturday’s shame in Shizuoka should provide plenty enough motivation for that, the head coach-elect suggested.
“We look back to our last result, that’s enough,” Farrell said.
“It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing against this week, whether it’s Russia or New Zealand. The same applies, it’s about getting back on the horse and putting in a performance.”
Farrell speaks from personal experience about the powers of bouncebackability, no matter the quality of the opponent that comes next after a chastening defeat.
The rugby league legend turned union rookie was in England’s 2007 World Cup squad and was in the Brian Ashton side beaten 36-0 by South Africa in a pool game before the English rebounded against Tonga in the following game on their way to back-to-back final appearances, although Farrell suffered a calf injury.
“I think you can use a setback in the right manner. I think you can look at the last three World Cups, South Africa lost to Japan and lost the semi-final (to New Zealand) 20-18, you look at 2011, France looked in disarray and there’s a debate about whether they should have won the final.
“In 2007, I was part of the England squad that got a thrashing against South Africa. There was a bit of turmoil in that camp and they managed to get to the final. There was a debatable try that was disallowed.
“You can use these to your advantage. They’re not ideal but if you use them to your advantage they can be powerful.
“After a couple of days of understanding the reasons why, we’re in good spirits, back on track and ready to prove a point.”
Part of the healing process came on Tuesday in a training hit-out against Wayne Smith’s Kobelco Steelers, the 2018-19 champions in Japan’s Top League. Schmidt described the session as an “absolutely brilliant” restorative that proved useful in other ways.
“It was a relatively young Kobe side. They didn’t have some of their big overseas stars there like Dan Carter, but the energy they brought — and not only that but they counter-rucked us a couple of times and gave us a good old bashing.
“It just reminds us that we’ve got to be big enough to look after our own ball. Even if the entry is coming in the side, for us to get our wide base and drop our height and get our hips down to make sure that we’re in a really strong position, it was an ideal hit-out for us. Sometimes energy is contagious in a training like that and they brought plenty with them.”
Ireland will need to be energised because they were anything but for the final hour against Japan in Shizuoka.
“There’s a lot of disappointment within the camp,” Farrell said yesterday. “We’ve had a good few meetings since then, a good few training sessions and the feeling in the camp is one of excitement and wanting to put things right on the pitch on Thursday night.
“That can’t come quick enough.”
The defence coach was not happy with the way his players lost an alarming number of collisions with the Japanese during what he called “a mixed bag” in terms of the defensive performance. While praising the resolve to hang onto a losing bonus point at the end as Japan turned the screw during the final minutes, Farrell added: “It’s not the usual defensive pressure performance we saw the week before… When you lose collisions you tend to put yourself in a vulnerable position, especially out wide.
“The stuff that was going on in and around the breakdown is stuff that we need to take care of ourselves.”
Discipline is another facet that needs to be addressed having finished both their games so far on the wrong side of the penalty count. Schmidt let it be known that as part of the regular post-match feedback from World Rugby, there was an admission that the match officials made incorrect calls on three of the four offside penalties conceded by Ireland.
“It’s like any type of error you make as a team,” Farrell said, “you’ve got to adapt and have a no-excuse mentality.
“The only point Joe was trying to make yesterday is that we’re a disciplined side, we pride ourselves on our discipline massively. We don’t want to go back into ourselves, in fact, we’ve been practising rugby league this week by going back 10 metres so we’re not offside.
“It’s unfortunate, at times, but we can’t let that affect ourselves. All we can do is make sure we’re disciplined and we want to show that on Thursday night.”