World Cups tend to throw up all manner of surprises.
Ireland’s loss to Japan in Shizuoka last Saturday is the most obvious example of that but Luke McGrath experienced another, and entirely different, shock on Tuesday when Ireland and the Kobelco Steelers went at it in training.
The Steelers’ director of rugby is former All Blacks assistant Wayne Smith and working under him as head coach is Dave Dillon who, aside from previous roles with Bay of Plenty and the Chiefs in his native New Zealand, once played for Blackrock and worked at St Michael’s in Dublin.
“He was actually my PE coach in St Michael’s for a while,” said McGrath. “I only found out (Monday) he was here.
“It was just funny seeing a face like that. He coached myself and James Ryan. He is a great character and doing really well with Kobe.”
The Steelers presented Ireland with a combination of senior and academy players for the training session which was held under temperatures of 29 degrees and just as unusual this week has been the sight of Joey Carbery getting in reps at scrum-half.
The Munster out-half’s versatility has been well-flagged ever since he broke through with Leinster.
However, he was tagged as an auxiliary nine by Joe Schmidt when the squad was put together for this tournament and he will likely be handed time in the role off the bench against Russia today.
All going well, that is.
McGrath and Conor Murray have sat down with Carbery to go through various moves and duties and both nines have enjoyed the shock felt by their new back-up at the sheer volume of running that the role entails in making ruck after ruck.
“He is going well, yeah. He played a good bit there (on Tuesday). He is such a natural footballer that he seems to switch in everywhere.
“He was fairly impressive when he came in there. I have no doubt that if he has to go in at scrum-half, he will definitely be able to do it.
“I said it before, himself and Jordan (Larmour) just seem to pick up these things so naturally. They are very gifted footballers.”
McGrath faced his own curve ball at the weekend when he found himself stationed on the left wing towards the end of the game against the hosts but he starts in more familiar surroundings this week and obviously feels primed for the part.
Knee issues wrecked his chances of seeing game time in the Six Nations but he fared well enough at Leinster on his return from injury, and in camp during the summer, to edge Kieran Marmion out of the race for the second scrum-half spot for this tournament.
He earns his 17th cap in Kobe today but this will be only a third start and, interestingly, it will be the first with Jonathan Sexton alongside him. The pair know each other well from their club duties and the significance of the veteran’s presence can’t be overstated.
“He screams at me to get the ball out quicker,” he laughed. “When I make a wrong decision, he lets me know.
“No, I am only messing. He has been brilliant. Like I said, he just sets the standards. He tries to get perfection with absolutely everything.
“It just shows how good he is as a player. I really enjoy playing with him.
“It’s like having a teacher out there at times. He knows what to do at the right times. I just listen to him most of the time and hopefully he’s happy.”
Sexton’s mood will be dictated to a larger extent than usual by the conditions inside the Kobe Misaki Stadium and how Ireland cope with them.
A closed roof and stifling humidity have made for a treachourous pitch and ball in the games played there to date.
Ireland have taken note. Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki ere at the ground on Monday to take in the Scotland-Samoa game and that first-hand experience will have steeled the rest of the squad somewhat to the scene that awaits them.
“It is definitely something we are wary of,” said McGrath who will have his hands on the ball more than any other player on the pitch.
“You don’t often see people lose their footing that quickly and the ball was very slippy so there were a lot of knock-ons and stuff like that.
“We probably will have to adapt to the conditions as I heard it was extremely hot at that game.
“Look, we have plays in there where we can kick it a little bit more, maybe play like it’s a rainy days at times.
“We are aware of it so hopefully we can adapt to it.”
Some allowance will be made for all that but those players entrusted with the game duties today will know that they harbour a responsibility to not just trounce the lowest-ranked team in the tournament but to do it in a style and with a strut that moves everything on from Shizuoka.
“We had a meeting there (on Monday) and we were very honest with each other but, you are right, it is about bringing that positivity this week, not just the result we want but a good performance that we can build on through to Samoa.”