Joe Schmidt is gearing up for a “horrible couple of days” thrashing out Ireland’s World Cup squad selection.
Ireland edged out Wales 22-17 in Cardiff to hit back from last weekend’s 57-15 humbling in England, with Jacob Stockdale grabbing a try brace.
Ireland will submit their 31-man World Cup squad to World Rugby on Monday, but will not publicise that final Japanese travelling party until September 8.
Will Addison fared well at full-back but Schmidt branded the Ulster utility back “underdone”, suggesting he could miss out amid the head coach’s final selection deliberations, with Andrew Conway having furthered his claims.
Asked how close he is to his final 31-man selection, Schmidt said: “I can tell you now, I’m not sure. We need to see what our balance is.
“Whatever you do there’s always a risk you don’t quite get it right. I don’t think we got it right last time (in 2015).
“It’s a horrible couple of days. For those players who miss out it’s going to be a real body blow, I’m incredibly conscious of that.
“But you can only take 31 players and that’s the reality of it.”
Jack Carty surely assured himself Ireland’s third fly-half berth with an accomplished performance at 10 at the Principality Stadium.
Schmidt insisted that Johnny Sexton will feature against Wales in Dublin next weekend, and that Joey Carbery will beat his ankle injury in time for Ireland’s World Cup opener against Scotland on September 22.
Munster playmaker Carbery can offer emergency cover at scrum-half, with Conor Murray and Kieran Marmion likely to be Ireland’s two recognised nines in the eventual squad.
Tadhg Beirne should fill the fourth lock berth, with his ability to feature at flanker allowing Ireland to select five back-rowers.
Rory Best showed up well off the bench in Cardiff, making 12 tackles in a combative 20-minute cameo – reasserting his credentials as Ireland’s World Cup captain.
Addison, Conway, Jordan Larmour and Chris Farrell could now hand Schmidt the biggest deliberations in his backline selections.
“We’ll go back and have a look at it, certainly we’ll be as forensic as we can in looking back, then discussing it as coaches over the next day and a bit really,” said Schmidt.
“We’ll get together tomorrow afternoon and evening, then we’ll have more time on Monday morning.
“Will (Addison) did some things really well, he took a cut to the head and then got cramp, so we brought him off to protect him from injury.
“He has such a balanced running style, he gets a good look at the pitch running back from full-back, and he’s accomplished at kicking and kicking goals as well. So he’s a good back-up from that perspective.
“He’s underdone, he hasn’t had as much rugby as we would have liked, but then versatility is a huge strength for him.
“He’s covered the full spectrum of the back three and 13 which is an asset when trying to narrow a squad down.
“So we’ll be looking at him and comparing a few other guys, and seeing who best fits the mould.”
Schmidt praised Connacht playmaker Carty for his showing in Cardiff, but admitted again selection calls will not be straightforward.
“Jack’s done well, but it’s apples, oranges and lemons,” said Schmidt.
“You’ve got a number of different 10 options.
“One of them (Sexton) hasn’t played yet, but we all know he’ll play next week and will go.
“And another (Carbery) played very well for 50 minutes against Italy, and might be on the bench next week but will certainly be back in time for Scotland.”
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Japan coach Jamie Joseph promised the hosts would “give 150 percent” to hit their target of reaching the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals after naming his 31-man squad on Thursday.
The Brave Blossoms will be at full strength when they face Russia in the tournament’s curtain-raiser in Tokyo on September 20 after talismanic captain Michael Leitch returned from injury at the recent Pacific Nations Cup.
“The team has set a goal of making the top eight for the first time in the history of Japanese rugby,” Joseph told reporters.
“The staff and players will give 150 percent – we’re under no illusions how difficult that is but it’s definitely our goal. The moment of truth will be upon us shortly.”
“Our game is based around speed, skill and structure,” added the former All Black, whose team limbers up for the World Cup with a “must-perform” Test against two-time champions South Africa next week.
“But the key difference this year is we are fit enough now to play that game. We’re training at a level of intensity that’s 25 percent higher than our matches — I think that’s our key weapon.”
Japan famously won three games at the 2015 World Cup under Eddie Jones, including an astonishing 34-32 victory over the Springboks.
Currently ranked ninth in the world after capturing their third Pacific Nations title, the Japanese also take on Ireland, Scotland and Samoa in Pool A as they target a place in the knockout stage for the first time.
They will be boosted by their success at the Pacific Nations, where they beat Fiji (34-21), Tonga (41-7) and the United States (34-20).
Finn Russell has told his Scotland team-mates not to let stage fright wreck their final World Cup audition on Saturday.
Gregor Townsend’s squad have one final chance to shine against Georgia in Tbilisi before the head coach announces the 31 players he will be taking to Japan.
Racing 92 playmaker Russell is normally the coolest performer in the Dark Blues camp but he has extra reason to be calm in the lead-up to Townsend’s squad unveiling at Linlithgow Palace next Tuesday given his role as the Scottish attack’s undisputed leading man.
The stand-off’s place is all but guaranteed but he is aware some of his colleagues still have some convincing to do in order to book their seat on the plane to the Far East.
But he urged the rest of Townsend’s hopefuls to stay relaxed when their moment under the Dinamo Arena spotlight comes as he admitted fluffed lines could be costly.
Russell said: “You’ve got to look forward to these games. If you’re going to get tense then you might not perform as well.
“I think you’ve got to go into it full on, wanting to play, wanting to perform and wanting to do your best.
“I know there might be pressure on players to perform and get a win away from home. But if you over-think it and worry, ‘If we don’t play well or if we lose then we might not get on the flight’ then the chances are you won’t play well because you’ll be making it too complicated rather than sticking to what you know and trust. It’s better if you back yourself.”
The only thing now likely to prevent Russell from facing Ireland in the Scots’ Group A opener at the International Stadium in Yokohama on September 22 is injury.
Yet with a second clash with the powerhouse Georgians to come at Murrayfield six days after Saturday’s Tbilisi Test, he is aware there are still a couple of hurdles to overcome.
The pitfalls were made clear this week when Exeter lock Sam Skinner was ruled out of the tournament as a result of the hamstring injury he sustained against France last weekend.
But Russell lived up to his laid-back reputation as he shrugged off the suggestion the next couple of games were all about staying out of trouble.
He said: “You can’t go out thinking about not getting injured. It’s a contact sport and injuries are going to happen. That’s the way it is.
“Fraser Brown got injured towards the end of last season and Sam’s been injured now. Personally, I don’t think about that and neither will many of the boys.
“If you have a niggle, you might be a bit more cautious about it but if you’re going into a game you can’t be thinking, ‘What if I try to tackle a guy and this happens or if I jump to catch a ball and that happens?’ you’ll probably end up in bad positions because you’re being cautious trying to get out the way of it.”
Scotland recovered from their five-trying pasting in Nice to beat Les Bleus 17-14 in Edinburgh last Saturday.
They will now look to improve on a miserable away record that has produced just three wins from their last 11 matches on the road but Russell is wary of the Lelos.
He said: “Georgia will be tough. They are getting better every year. There are a couple of Georgian players who play with me at Racing (Guram Gogichashvili and Vasil Kakovin), so it will be fun for me going up against them.
“Knowing the quality those guys bring to Racing shows their national team are getting better and they are getting more and more depth. We’ll have to be at our best to fly out there and win.”
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