RWC 19: Joe Schmidt tells Ireland to ignore weather distraction ahead of Samoa clash

Press Association Sport 13:24 10/10/2019
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Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.

Joe Schmidt has admitted the uncertainty around Typhoon Hagibis has created a “distraction” for Ireland’s crucial World Cup clash with Samoa.

Head coach Schmidt is confident Ireland can quickly focus back in on Saturday’s Pool A decider in Fukuoka, that will now definitely beat the weather.

Typhoon Hagibis is due to rip through Tokyo, Yokohama and Toyota City at the weekend, with World Rugby already cancelling New Zealand versus Italy and England versus France.

Scotland’s clash with Japan on Sunday remains under threat – and a cancellation there would see Japan top Pool A and Ireland only able to finish second.

A second-place finish would set Ireland up for a quarter-final against back-to-back world champions New Zealand, but Schmidt is determined not to get ahead of himself with Samoa looming on Saturday.

“There is a distraction; there was a lot of talk among the players post-training today when we found out about the cancellations,” said Schmidt.

“Because any time there’s something up in the air or something is unknown – especially when two games have already been abandoned – you get players are going to talk about that because it’s newsworthy and influential once games are being cancelled.

“But we’ve just got to make sure our game gets finished with the right result for us, and I’m sure Samoa are going to out to make that as difficult for us as possible.

“We’re not really having too many conversations with World Rugby; we had a few earlier in the week because at one stage the typhoon pattern was somewhat different from what it is now.

“But for us we just have to be business as usual. We can’t control what happens with the Japan-Scotland game, so on Saturday it’s up to us to get our business done as best we can.”

Fit-again Robbie Henshaw will partner Bundee Aki in the centres for Ireland’s Samoa clash, with Jordan Larmour slotting in at full-back and Tadhg Beirne at blindside flanker.

Rob Kearney was deemed not quite ready having missed a section of training on Tuesday, while Peter O’Mahony is handed a rest with a seat on the bench.

Scotland’s match with Japan will be played on Sunday in Yokohama or not at all.

A cancellation would see the result inked in as a scoreless draw, and both teams awarded two points.

That would leave Ireland unable to leapfrog Japan at the top of the pool. Schmidt’s men would be able to match Japan’s points tally, but would fall behind the Brave Blossoms owing to the hosts’ 19-12 victory over the Irish.

Ireland boss Schmidt refused to be drawn on whether cancellations damage the World Cup’s integrity, saying: “Again it’s not something I can control, I only know what we need to do, and we need to get out and get a result.

“It’s a situation nobody wanted to have. I know there are several teams who are massively disappointed their games have already been abandoned.

“With the amount of people travelling to games there are supporters and certainly players disappointed.

“Some players are playing in their last World Cup, there’s no bigger game than getting to play against some of the biggest players in the world game, and they are missing that opportunity.

“So do I think that from that perspective that’s disappointing, but from our perspective all we can do really is what we can control, and as much as possible that’s what our full focus is on.”

Ireland team to face Samoa in Fukuoka On Saturday

J Larmour (Leinster), K Earls (Munster), R Henshaw (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Stockdale (Ulster), J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), T Furlong (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster), T Beirne (Munster), J Van Der Flier (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster). Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), A Porter (Leinster), J Kleyn, P O’Mahony (both Munster), L McGrath (Leinster), J Carbery, A Conway (both Munster).

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RWC 19: England v France group decider cancelled due to the approaching Super Typhoon Hagibis

Press Association Sport 13:11 10/10/2019
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Tournament director Alan Gilpin addresses the media.

England’s group decider against France on Saturday has been cancelled due to the approach of Super Typhoon Hagibis in one of the most extraordinary days in 32 years of World Cup history.

Each team will take two points from the abandoned Pool C showdown at International Stadium Yokohama and New Zealand’s encounter against Italy in Toyota City has shared the same fate.

Still under review, however, is the critical meeting between Scotland and Japan which is also being staged in Yokohama.

If that game does not go ahead, the Scots will be automatically eliminated while the tournament hosts reach the quarter-finals for the first time. The Scottish Rugby Union has released a statement demanding the match be played under contingency plans.

Hagibis has been described by the Japanese Metrological Agency as “violent” and has the capacity to cause widespread destruction around the Tokyo region.

Satellite images of the extreme weather event displayed at World Rugby’s press conference on Thursday reveal it is the size of Japan and shows no sign of deviating in its path or decreasing in magnitude.

It dwarfs Typhoon Faxai which brought Tokyo to a standstill for the day of England’s arrival in Japan, delaying their exit from Narita Airport by six hours and leaving a million homes without power, killing three people and injuring scores more.

World Cup tournament director Alan Gilpin stated that the governing body’s hand was forced by the danger posed by the Category 5 super typhoon, which is on course to hit mainland in the early hours of Saturday.

“Based on this morning’s advice, Hagibis is predicted to be the biggest of 2019 and highly likely to cause disruption in the Yokohama, Tokyo and Toyota area, including public transport shutdown,” Gilpin said.

“As a result of this independent advice, we have taken the difficult and right decision in the affected areas.

“As you can imagine the decision has not been taken lightly and is in the best interest of safety as a priority.

“All fans will receive full refunds. We are continuing to review Sunday’s matches and making sure they are played as scheduled.

“Assessment will be made after the typhoon has passed. We are advising all fans in Toyota, Yokohama and Tokyo to stay inside on Saturday.

“We looked pretty exhaustively at all the options. Important to note is that where we are is in accordance with what we said we would do before the tournament.

“Moving teams round on this scale and being able to deliver safely the exit of 12 teams….we couldn’t guarantee contingency plans consistently. If we can’t do it for all, we can’t do it for any.”

The first cancellation of a game in nine installments of the World Cup was preceded by feverish planning but attempts to move games to Oita – the setting for England’s quarter-final – proved logistically impossible.

Confusion even reigned in the hours immediately before official confirmation with World Rugby stating the games had not been cancelled even as Eddie Jones made frantic plans to take his squad out of Tokyo.

England are now heading to Miyazaki – the setting for their pre-tournament camp which is on the same island as Oita – knowing they and France had already qualified for the last eight.

“I think the Japanese have a saying – shogun-hi – we can’t control it. It’s not something you can control. This is the situation,” Jones said.

“I think it’s a wonderful World Cup. You can’t help typhoons, we would all like to think we’ve got the power above and beyond what’s on the world at the moment, but we don’t and these things happen and you just ride with it.

“We are excited about the prospect of having great preparation for the quarter-final now.

“We’ve got some leeway over the next three days and so we are off to Miyazaki for a short pre-season camp and then we are off to Oita.

“Who would have thought we would have two relatively easy games, one tough game and then two weeks to prepare for a quarter-final. So someone is smiling on us – the typhoon gods maybe?”

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RWC 2019: Wales' resilience stands them in good stead and Fiji knocking on Tier 1 door

Matt Jones - Editor 22:23 09/10/2019
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A bloodied Liam Williams typified Wales' fighting spirit against Fiji.

Wales cemented their place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals and reaffirmed their stance as favourites to win Pool D with a thrilling 29-17 win over Fiji.

It was a stunning game of rugby that ebbed and flowed, with ferocious hits, fluid play and yellow cards all flashing throughout.

The Flying Fijians roared into an early two-try lead through Josua Tuisova and Kini Murimurivalu with a third penalty try and subsequent yellow for James Davies putting them in the ascendancy early in the second half.

But Wales winger Josh Adams scored a hat-trick, including a terrific third try that defied gravity, to regain a semblance of control, with Liam Williams’ score confirming a bonus point and edging Wales home.

Wales, just like in their narrow victory over Australia, stood up to the test. And that uncanny ability to win under pressure is what leads off our talking points.

DRAGONS LIKE THE HEAT

Jonathan Davies is a pivotal figure for Wales.

Jonathan Davies is a pivotal figure for Wales.

Wales have been efficient rather than effervescent so far at the World Cup and formidable challenges lie ahead. But just how much will their mental and physical toughness, insatiable work-rate and sheer will count when the going gets tough in the knockout stages?

New Zealand, England, South Africa and Australia have all shown a cutting edge in cutting loose against some of the tournament’s minnows. And while Wales showed a killer instinct and also put some much-needed panache into their opening performance against Georgia, they’ve had to dig deep in their last two games – physical and mentally-draining tests against the Wallabies and this absolute barn burner.

These battles have taken their toll – with Dan Biggar now suffering concussions in back-to-back matches and the medical team overseeing a group of walking wounded.

But, ultimately, Wales’ resilience and fortitude has come to the fore as successive bonus point victories have been achieved when, in years gone by, the Dragons would have melted when thrown into the melting pot of such intense encounters.

They stubbornly held on for victory against the Aussies, who had roared back into the contest in the second half having been engulfed by a wave of Welsh pressure and self-sabotage in the opening half. Welsh teams of the past would have unquestionably lost that game in the closing stages – history is a harsh reminder. But despite losing pivot Biggar they stood tall, with Rhys Patchell navigating them home.

In the midst of a flying start from the Flying Fijians on Wednesday they did not lose their composure, hanging tough when it looked as if they would be cast aside; their class eventually shining through.

With the business end of proceedings on the horizon, this gritty resolve could be key to winning a maiden Webb Ellis Cup.

FIJI A RISING FORCE

Fiji have long been a formidable foe for any Tier 1 opponent. But the work John McKee has done with the nation in his five years in charge has gone beyond the sheer physicality and speed which was always a joy to watch.

Their flair and ferociousness has always thrilled. But they are so much more than that now and will be one of the most disappointed teams going home at the pool stage.

The fear they scattered among Australia and Wales coaches, players and fans alike was tangible and poses the very legitimate question: can it really be too much longer before they start knocking on the Tier 1 door?

Results like Wednesday’s spirited defeat capture the imagination, as did the 23-20 loss to Ireland a few years ago. But ones like the 21-14 victory over France last November and pair of June 2017 triumphs over Scotland (27-22) and Italy (22-19) ram home the feeling that the Flying Fijians deserve to soar with the elite.

After all, Italy’s continued inclusion in the Six Nations has long been a topic of discussion in northern hemisphere rugby circles, while Scotland’s travails in recent years has also called into question their standing in Tier 1.

It is a conversation into which Japan have also catapulted themselves since their shock against the Springboks at the 2015 World Cup – enhanced further by their shimmering start at their home tournament.

Momentum only reverberates when considering the duo’s world rankings. Fiji are 11th, Japan 8th. Both are above the Azzurri in 12th, while the Brave Blossoms currently outrank both Scotland and Argentina.

The Pumas have played in the Rugby Championship since 2012, would Fiji look so out of place there too?

USA boss Gary Gold last month called on Tier 1 nations to commit to playing Tier 2 opponents more regularly in order to close the gap. Japan and Fiji certainly deserve an opportunity to compete with the best more often.

Whatever is on the horizon, Fiji are flourishing and a bright future is in front of them.

UP AND ADAMS

Josh Adams scores his hat-trick try for Wales.

Josh Adams scores his hat-trick try for Wales.

Josh Adams joined a couple of illustrious clubs on Wednesday with a hat-trick of tries against Fiji. His treble of touchdowns against the Pacific Islanders was the 66th time a hat-trick had been scored at a World Cup and made him the 61st different player to score three times in a match – Jeff Wilson, Vincent Clerc, Bryan Habana, Julian Savea and Adam Ashley-Cooper have all achieved the feat twice.

The Cardiff Blues speed merchant also became just the sixth member of an exclusive club of Welsh players to score a treble at the tournament. Opened by fellow wing Glen Webbe all the way back at the first World Cup in 1987 – he was the third scorer of a hat-trick at the tournament – Ieuan Evans signed up days later with a treble against Canada. Gareth Thomas was welcomed eight years later in South Africa, Scott Williams entered in 2011 and Cory Allen joined in 2015.

And Adams is now part of the secret society, and cements a growing reputation that has been established rapidly by the 24-year-old Swansea-born player. Adams only made his Wales debut last year but has since gone on to exert a vice-like grip on the No11 jersey, with relative veteran George North the powerful yin to his elusive yang on the other flank.

At the time of his debut against Scotland in the Six Nations in February last year, Adams lined up alongside fellow prospect Steff Evans – then deemed the brighter talent. But Adams has thrived and often pops up with big tries in big games.

His 77th minute score against England in the Six Nations at the start of this year proved to be decisive in a 21-13 victory, while his searing speed and uncanny ability to escape defenders came to the fore as he rinsed Blair Kinghorn to open Wales’ account at Murrayfield two weeks later.

Adams delivered once again in Oita on Wednesday, his tally giving him eight tries from 17 Tests. He is on his way to joining the pantheon of Welsh wing wonders.

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