If a team goes poorly and you’re not on the pitch, your value goes up, but if the team goes well everyone sharpens the knives and says, “You’re done.”
I’ve been there myself, where you’re nearly hoping for the team to win but the guys in your position not to have the greatest of games.
Now, Rob Kearney and Keith Earls are back into the team after a convincing win for Ireland, but they’ll be treating this match no differently to anyone else in the side. Those two guys are quality and they’re proven. What Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway did last week, Kearney and Earls do every week.
Earlsie always plays well. He’s never below standard – and it’s the same with Kearns. It’ll be a real boost for them to be back and I think they’ll be more driven by performance. They’ll have trained with the lads and will think, “I rate myself as a better player – so now I’ve got to show it.”
Full strength pack shows respect for Japan
Part of me thought the Japan game was an opportunity to mix things up and to have a look at resting Keith and perhaps Rory Best. But I’m delighted Ireland haven’t done that – it shows full respect to Japan.
It’s a really strong pack and it’s great that Jack Carty’s in at 10 to steer the ship. I don’t know if Johnny Sexton has been “rested” – that looks like more of a precaution. Joe Schmidt is maybe thinking, “Let’s get him right.”
Johnny showed his merits by playing well even with a bit of an injury against Scotland. People sometimes don’t give enough credit for players making others around them look good, and that’s what he and the likes of Kearney do. Sexton was carrying a knock on Sunday, but he put in a big performance.
It’s a good call now to get Carty in and give him a bit of experience and also to give Johnny the time to ensure he’s right. There’s no doubting Sexton is number one and there’s no reason to risk him this weekend if he’s not 100%. He has the mileage and has earned the right to be put in a box that’s only opened on the big day.
I felt Peter O’Mahony might get a rest if the knock he sustained against Scotland was any way bad. O’Mahony is the type of player who’ll go out on his shield. You don’t need that against Japan – but you’ll need it against whoever you meet in a quarter-final.
I was worried that he was injured or carrying a knock, but there’s no way there’s a player going out on Saturday at only 95% fit. Joe putting him out indicates his respect for Japan. Everyone knows now that Ireland are going after this game in Shizuoka.
What will Japan bring to the table?
This match is one I’m nervous about, though Scotland was always the big one in the pool. Every match from now gets bigger and bigger as you’re looking to get form for later in the tournament.
I watched Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup and they were brilliant. But they underperformed against Russia. It was an awful game. They were really poor in that one and I think the main reason is that the nerves have got to them a bit.
It’s in them to put in big performances but sometimes the weight of expectation of a whole nation can be tough on a group. That may be the case with them.
If they don’t feel that weight, then they’re a very dangerous side – and personally I hope they feel it this weekend!
A lot is made of short turnarounds – but it’s not all that bad
An awful lot of is made of the short turnarounds but at this time of year it’s not all that bad.
Your season is just starting out and you’ve come off the back of your pre-season. It’s much harder towards the end of the year, when you’re probably carrying knocks and not many players are at 100%.
There are some teams faced with a four-day turnaround, but with knowledge of that you can get your training load right. I’ve been on a Lions tour where you play Tuesdays and Saturdays – we got the training right and ended up loving doing it.
The training load is set lower, so you get your collisions in during matches. I’d rather be hopping off the opposition than my own team-mates.
Ireland’s lineout ball needs to improve
Ireland will have game-plans for each match in the pool, so they won’t be thinking too far ahead to the knockout rounds. There’s a lot to work on for them in the meantime.
There has been a lot of talk about Ireland hitting 12 from 12 lineouts last Sunday, but what you discuss within the squad is “useable ball” – how much of that possession won from lineouts were we able to use. Against Scotland, it was very low.
Our launching off the scrum was very good, but our lineout usability isn’t as high as we’d like it to be. So there are plenty of things to work on.
But would you run lineouts you plan to use against South Africa before you play them? No – you build your lineout menu to beat Japan knowing that you’re showing nothing to anyone else, be it Russia, Samoa or whoever.
You cut your cloth to the opposition you’re playing. Not so much for what’s coming down the track.