Talk of Typhoons has taken much of the attention away from Ireland’s stop-start nature in this Rugby World Cup. While everyone else in Japan is worried about the weather, Joe Schmidt is looking around wondering where the form his team showed in 2018 has gone.
Unlike the other ‘top tier’ nations, Ireland have failed to rack up large scores against their underdog opponents, while also managing to throw a defeat to Japan into the mix. The mood in the Irish camp is as brittle as a leaf in autumn at the moment and the last thing the men in green want to be faced with is a care-free Samoa.
Ireland should have enough firepower in this one to get over the -27 handicap line, but the very fact the handicap is under 30 for the fourth-ranked team against the fourteenth, tells its own story. If you want a safe bet to get in the game, take the handicap and run.
This old lover of rugby has gone back watched all of Ireland and Samoa’s Pool games so far. Yes, it is an addiction. Judging by what we have seen, cross-field kicks and mauls are the order of the day for any side looking to beat Samoa.
The men from the islands of Savai’i, Upolu, Manono, Apolima, Fanuatapu, and Namua are renowned for their attacking prowess and bone-crunching tackles, but ask them to defend a maul and, well, let’s say it’s not their strong point.
Rory Best is one man who could benefit from this as Ireland go for the jugular early on, but looking at some of Ireland’s line out set ups, Tadhg Beirne could be sniffing around their too. Throw in his ability to win turnovers, intercept backline moves and general ability to show up in the 22 as first receiver, I think Tadhg Beirne as first try scorer at 16/1 is worth a look.
Ireland’s squad as a whole has a point to prove this weekend. Every single player is looking to build some confidence and form ahead of a quarter-final meeting with either New Zealand or South Africa.
There are some in the matchday squad who know that their position is one that is up for grabs. CJ Stander, Tadhg Beirne and Jordan Larmour won’t need any reminding from me that Peter O’Mahony, Jordi Murphy, Rhys Ruddock and Rob Kearney are all looking on with much desire to get back into the starting XV.
Another man who is under pressure to perform is 29-year-old centre Bundee Aki. The 22-times-capped number 12 is a son of Samoan parents and is very close friends with Samoa’s starting 15, Tim Nanai-Williams. The two even went for dinner together this week. This could be a special day for him.
Aki came into the tournament as the number one pick for Joe Schmidt in the centre. It appeared to be a race between Henshaw and Ringrose as to who would accompany the Connacht man, but things have changed.
Aki’s poor run of form has coincided with Ringrose fronting up in attack and defence to the point where he has been so good the coaches can no longer ignore him – going as far as to rest him this week.
Therefore, with the emotional day that is in it for Aki and his family and with the added pressure of playing for his place next week, all coupled with the fact that he will relish this physical encounter, I think Aki at 12/1 is a good tip for Man of the Match.