Ireland back-rower Peter O’Mahony has backed playmakers Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton to “look after themselves” whatever strong-arm tactics Scotland might attempt in Sunday’s World Cup opener.
Scrum-half Murray hit out at Glasgow’s “very dangerous” attempts to take out his standing leg when kicking back in a European clash in January 2017.
Scotland have continually tried to unsettle Ireland’s stellar British and Irish Lions playmaking duo, and Murray’s Munster team-mate O’Mahony fully expects more of the same in Yokohama this weekend.
“Look, it hasn’t come into our thinking. It’s a Test game, half-backs are always targeted,” O’Mahony said.
“Jacob’s already spoken about Finn Russell. If you can get to the other team’s playmakers it gives you advantage and that isn’t something that’s new in Test Rugby.
“And it isn’t going to be any different tomorrow. So front-foot ball, solid set-piece, having the ability to get ourselves into the game and starting well is paramount for us.
“So Johnny and the boys are well able to look after themselves.”
The 59-cap flanker O’Mahony said Ireland had been waiting for this World Cup to kick-off for so long their eagerness for a strong start had hit fever pitch.
Ireland suffered a record 57-15 loss to England at Twickenham just last month, but rebounded with back-to-back victories over Wales.
Joe Schmidt’s side enter this tournament as the world’s number-one ranked team. But while New Zealand remain the bookmakers’ favourites for a third World Cup triumph in succession, Ireland are itching to make good on their vows to hit their peak at exactly the right time.
Asked if Ireland, and especially the forwards, were ready to hit new heights in Japan, O’Mahony said: “I think you have to think you’re ready, you’ve been waiting for this for a long time.
“It’s the game everyone’s been waiting for. And 18 months ago we spoke about it briefly, but when you’re playing big tournaments it kind of catches up with you. All of a sudden you’re into the World Cup pre-season.
“But now it’s here, and it’s the one where everyone wants to start well and perform well.
“We’ve had a great pre-season and you have to think and believe we’re ready to go.”
O’Mahony said Ireland had been “taken aback” by the depth of the welcome from the Japanese public.
The 30-year-old said Ireland would now aim to take that feel-good factor into their World Cup bid.
“We’re a very proud nation, a proud squad; to be from Ireland and to get an opportunity to play for Ireland is something that no one takes lightly,” said O’Mahony.
“Whether you’re in the 31, 23, or starting fifteen, it’s a huge honour to be here playing in a World Cup in Japan.
“That’s the overwhelming thing, with regard to the team, we’ve had a fabulous welcome from the Japanese people and we’re certainly very grateful for that.
“I was lucky enough to be here 10 years ago and experience a lot of the cultures here.
“But the welcome this time has been absolutely incredible, and a lot of the guys have been taken aback by that.
“We’d consider Ireland a very welcoming country, but Japan take that to a different level.”
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Australia found salvation in their driving lineout as they survived a scare to dispatch Fiji 39-21 in their Rugby World Cup opener at the Sapporo Dome.
The two-time champions trailed by nine points until they seized the lead for the first time in the 62nd minute before galloping out of sight, the Islanders unable to absorb unrelenting set-piece pressure.
Two identical tries, that saw hooker Silatolu Latu driven over on both occasions, swung the game and Australia then ran amok against deflated opponents – who knew the mighty World Cup upset they had threatened was gone.
Wales are competing with the Wallabies for top spot in Pool D but there was little on display here to overly concern Warren Gatland’s Grand Slam champions, especially as the final scoreline was distorted by Fiji’s collapse.
Likewise, Australia’s possible quarter-final opponents England, whose wily head coach Eddie Jones will have seen his countrymen dominated and rattled until finding the route out of trouble.
Both teams invited early pressure onto themselves but Fiji also shone and, inside 10 minutes, they had built an 8-0 lead.
"I'm not going to complain at all..."@wallabies head coach Michael Cheika gives respect to @fijirugby after a tough encounter in their opening #RWC2019 match #AUSvFIJ#SuperSaturday pic.twitter.com/B0nAMsfhKA— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 21, 2019
Australian tacklers were scattered by Josua Tuisova during a rampaging run down the right wing and openside Peceli Yato was on hand to finish the attack.
Fiji were looking the better coached team until Michael Hooper side-stepped over from close range after a series of raids down the left.
It was only brief respite as Fiji renewed their onslaught, harvesting six more points from Ben Volavola’s boot, but Australia were far more ruthless in possession and when they next visited the 22 a try was worked for wing Reece Hodge.
The Wallabies needed to settle quickly into the second half but instead they gifted the Islanders their second try as a botched midfield move presented Waisea Nayacalevu with the loose ball.
Shrugging off a tackle, the outside centre ran almost half the pitch to cross under the posts with a swallow dive before being mobbed by the replacements bench, who were warming up nearby.
There was an air of inevitability to Australia’s next try as repeated lineout drives ended with Latu crossing and, with Levani Botia sin-binned for killing the ball, they produced a carbon copy with the same player going over once again.
The floodgates were now open as Fiji collapsed, with Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete completing a one-sided scoreline that was unkind to the Islanders.
An emotional Eddie Jones choked back the tears as he reflected on what it meant to guide England into the 2019 World Cup.
After four years spent outlining his intention of returning the Webb Ellis Trophy to Twickenham, that quest is finally about to begin when England collide with Tonga at the Sapporo Dome on Sunday.
In a rare display of feeling, the Australian head coach was forced to compose himself as he considered the significance of carrying a nation’s hopes.
“It’s humbling, mate. It’s a great honour to coach England. . . and. . I just want to make sure I do my best,” said Jones, who has named his strongest available side against Tonga.
“World Cups are always emotional. You get to do something that is pretty special. To coach a nation and to be responsible for a nation at a World Cup, where you know it’s not just Rugby fans watching.
“Families watch World Cups, that’s the difference. It becomes an event for the country, rather than an event for Rugby followers. It becomes an event for this country here. To be involved in that is a real honour.
“That’s the amazing thing about World Cups. You are playing seven Rugby games so it’s no different than anything else, but it is in extraordinary circumstances.
“You go outside and there are spectators. There are Australian supporters, there are Fijian supporters, there are English supporters. It just creates a different atmosphere.”
Now that the defining phase of his England reign has arrived, Jones has braced fans a bumpy ride while promising that his squad have given everything during preparations for their quest to seize New Zealand’s Crown.
“My message to them would be ‘hang onto your seat’. They’re going to join us on the rollercoaster,” Jones said.
“The players have worked hard. Physically I haven’t seen them any better and off the field they’ve worked really hard to be a tight team.
“And that’s going to be tested in the World Cup because the World Cup is like a rollercoaster.
“We are at the top of the ride now and we are looking down – everyone’s nervous, everyone’s excited.
“You go down the first slope and you’re not sure if you are going to throw up or hang on.
“You’ve got to adapt to that and the players have equipped themselves to ride the rollercoaster because there’s going to be some turns, there’s going to be some accidents, there’s going to be some fun.
“We want to enjoy all of those things that come along and the team’s equipped to handle it.”
Only two changes have been made to the starting XV that toppled Ireland in record fashion at Twickenham last autumn, Anthony Watson coming in for Joe Cokanasiga on the right wing and Courtney Lawes displacing George Kruis at lock.
England are looking to launch their pursuit of glory with a statement performance against opponents who bookmakers predict will be swept aside with ease.
“Tonga will have them tight, they will have that ferocious pride. They are playing for more than just a game of Rugby,” Jones said.
“They are playing for a small country that fights against the odds and players there are fighting for their livelihoods, we know it means a lot for them.
“We understand how much emotion and intensity will go into the game and we have to match that.
“But we want to take them on. We are England and we want to take them on up front so no one will come out of there guessing.”
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