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Thursday 12 December 2019

Defence still a lift for Ireland

Plenty of room to improve for Samoa insists Farrell

Defence coach Andy Farrell during Ireland squad training at Shirouzuoike Park in Fukuoka
Defence coach Andy Farrell during Ireland squad training at Shirouzuoike Park in Fukuoka

Of all the 20 teams competing for the World Cup in Japan, only England have conceded fewer points than Ireland. Considering Eddie Jones' side have strolled through their pool, it puts Ireland's achievement into perspective.

The one statistic that really matters, however, is that England have a 100 per cent winning record going into the final week of the pool stages, while Ireland have already lost one game.

The All Blacks have also only conceded 22 points, which is two fewer than England after three games.

If we are to go by the old adage of 'defence wins championships' then Ireland should be right in the mix over the coming weeks. If only it were that simple.

Joe Schmidt's men arrive at their final pool game against Samoa on Saturday with plenty of questions still hanging over them, not least in attack.

We saw glimpses of what they are capable of in the win over Russia, but as a whole it wasn't all that convincing. They do, however, have a solid platform from which to work off as Andy Farrell appears to have plugged a few holes in his defence.

Japan have epeatedly showed what a quality side they are and for Ireland to have only conceded one try in three games is a pretty good record.

If they can keep Samoa try-less this weekend and end up in a quarter-final against either South Africa or New Zealand, Ireland can take a huge amount of confidence into what would be a very tough encounter.

Although Farrell has been impressed by what he has seen from his defence, he believes there is still plenty of room for improvement.

"Well, I would certainly take 100 s**t points and three wins," Ireland's defence coach reflects.

"Points don't mean much really. I have said to you guys before as well about the number of the tries. We have had one scored against us - am I happy with that?

"I think our performances can be better and hopefully they will be better when it matters.

"There are certain aspects of our defensive game that has been strong, physical and asking questions of the opposition. There have been certain aspects of that, that have been below those standards as well.

"I was pleased in the Russia game, albeit they didn't threaten too much. I was pleased with how we kept our focus and didn't let it drop."

Ireland are looking for a step up in their all-round game against a Samoan outfit who will come into the clash with a point to prove. The scheduling hasn't been all that kind to them, while they also feel that they have been on the end of some harsh refereeing decisions. That said, some of their tackling has been borderline, which naturally enough has resulted in them receiving a plethora of cards of both colours.

At the start of the tournament Schmidt would have devised a plan that would have prepared for all eventualities - one of them being that his side arrive at the final pool game needing to get a bonus-point win to advance to the last eight.

It is hardly ideal to feel like your hand is somewhat forced in terms of your selection, but the likes of Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Joey Carbery are all in need of game-time ahead of the potential quarter-final.

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