OPINION: Job done against Russia, but Ireland still well short of 2018 performance levels

Ireland's Andrew Conway goes over for the crucial bonus point securing fourth try against Russia
Ireland's Andrew Conway goes over for the crucial bonus point securing fourth try against Russia
Share this article

It was always going to be a no win situation for Ireland on Thursday when they faced Russia and sought to banish the demons of last Saturday’s shock World Cup Pool loss to Japan.

Facing Russia, the lowest ranked team in the tournament, whether it was a huge score - like 62-11 when they met in the group stages in 2011 - or as it turned out a straight forward 35-0 victory, a win was the lowest requirement, but it would take a lot to silence the doubters about their hopes of progressing beyond the quarter-finals.

Yes, in the end Ireland got the job done, secured the bonus point which keeps them on track to make the quarter-finals, something they can absolutely guarantee with a bonus point win over Samoa in nine days time.

Those handed with the responsibility - there were 11 changes to the side which lost to Japan - of finding, if you like, redemption in the sweltering greenhouse-like atmosphere of the closed roof Kobe Misaki Stadium got over the line, but it was another far from convincing display, scratchy at best.

Like against Japan, Ireland allowed themselves to be dragged into a game by Russia that they did not want. Fortunately on this occasion the Bears were unable to take advantage in

the same way the Brave Blossoms had one five days previously.

Ireland players bow to the crowd in Kobe after their win over Russia

Ireland players bow to the crowd in Kobe after their win over Russia

The Irish produced a steady start but 21-0 up at the break and with three tries on board they were expected to come out and push on. It did not happen until Andrew Conway finally found a way through in the 62nd minute.

Those who came into the side had an opportunity to put their hands up. Rhys Ruddock and Luke McGrath, along with Dave Kilcoyne in the first half, probably did, but nowhere did we see anyone who wanted to grasp the game by the neck.

There is no doubt the slippery conditions did not help, every side has struggled with handling at times and a lot more possession has been coughed up than would be expected - however, New Zealand seemed to cope all right when they registered the highest score of the tournament in a 63-0 win over Canada 24 hours earlier - Ireland falling somewhat short of their 52-point favourite tag in Kobe.

But, while it may not have been the convincing performance some would have wanted, Ireland are top of Pool A once again and a bonus point win against Samoa in the final game will secure a last eight berth - still potentially as group winners.

However, based on the two recent displays, few will expect Ireland to make history and reach the semi-finals for the first time at the tournament.

With New Zealand or South Africa lying in wait, Ireland have not done enough yet to silence their doubters.

Add to that the injury concerns, Ireland will have to manage things carefully ahead of that Samoa match.

Head coach Joe Schmidt played down concerns about Johnny Sexton, his switch at half time was tactical, but there is no doubt that if the Irish, as expected, reach the last eight they need their playmaking outhalf fit and able to go at least an hour because neither Joey Carberry or Jack Carty are showing their worth as deputies.

The backrow is starting to look threadbare - Ulster Jodri Murphy flew in earlier in the week to replace the injured Jack Conan and lasted 26 minutes when forced out with a rib injury.

Irish fans looking for hope in the overall picture will look to England in 2007 when they appeared to be in a shambles but reached the final before losing to South Africa. France in 2011 looked in disarray midway through the tournament, but went on to reach the final before losing narrowly to New Zealand.

And in 2015, South Africa lost to Japan in the group stages, but still went on to reach the semi-finals.

Ireland look like a side lacking in confidence, maybe even belief, something which happens at every World Cup - the only redemption they can have will be dealing a knockout blow to one of the two powerhouses in Japan, New Zealand or South Africa in the quarter-finals!