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Wednesday 16 October 2019

Ireland have look of a team that already know they are going out in the quarter-final

Analysis

Peter O’Mahony in action against Russia
Peter O’Mahony in action against Russia

A seventh World Cup quarter-final exit now looks inevitable for Ireland as they lurched from one poor performance to another, picked up another worrying injury and generally looked low on energy and ideas in Kobe.

Russia were dispatched, but there was little to love about a performance that saw the team that came into this tournament as the top-ranked side make the lowest ranked team look like contenders.

Peter O'Mahony took the biscuit when he described the Russians as "a quality side", while Joe Schmidt said he was "really happy" with the way his team had played.

Deep down, they know they're in trouble. While Vasily Artemyev and his courageous side are buying into the World Cup experience and winning respect, Ireland look like the weight of the world is on their shoulders. Russia, remember, played with 14 men for 20 minutes.

The humidity is certainly playing a role, but it can't explain the hollowed out look on their faces as they go about their business. This is supposed to be the highlight of their careers, but it looks like playing for their country at this World Cup is the most difficult thing they have ever done.

After this win in at the Misaki Stadium, they repeated the bow to the crowd they'd introduced after the Scotland win but things feel very, very different now.

Ireland made 18 handling errors, but it felt like more even to their coach.

"We were a little bit loose tonight and in those conditions with the high humidity, we knew there were 65 handling errors in the two games (in Kobe) previously, I don't know we maybe tried to make 65 ourselves," he said in his television interview, before providing a more positive front in the press conference room.

Schmidt knows that all of the blood, sweat and tears he has poured into this job will be for nothing if he doesn't find a way to get a tune out of this team in the next 15 days.

Whether it is New Zealand or South Africa will be dictated by his own team's points haul and results elsewhere.

Steve Hansen and Rassie Erasmus slept soundly last night anyway. Nothing they saw beneath the Misaki Stadium roof would trouble them unduly. Of course, there remains a possibility that Ireland could summon a one-off performance to create history. It just seems so unlikely now.

Perhaps the area of greatest concern is the back-row and the player most at risk right now is O'Mahony who once again looked under-powered and ill-disciplined.

He took his try well and was good out of touch, but he isn't an openside wing-forward and was out-played by one of the breakout stars of the competition in Russia's Tagir Gadzhiev.

Ireland would kill for a player like the doughty Gadzhiev of Dagestan, a man whose approach mirrors the injured Dan Leavy.

Without the Leinster man, Ireland's back-row looks under-powered, but Rhys Ruddock is one of those who looks to be on top of his game and able to mix it with the big boys.

CJ Stander's slavish addiction to contact remains a frustration, while his compatriot Jean Kleyn is not at the required level. Leaving Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux and Devin Toner behind increasingly looks like a mistake.

Tadhg Beirne was one of the better performers but the front-row of Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan won't be happy with their day, given the way Russia got on top in the scrums.

Kilcoyne was good with ball in hand, but Kirill Gotovtsev had him in all sorts of bother at scrum-time. Scannell didn't do enough to move Rory Best on, while Ryan is a game player who is unlikely to feature again if Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Porter stay fit.

There were 11 changes, it should be remembered, while conditions were tough but the errors and lack of on-field innovation in attack was quite something.

Behind the scrum, Luke McGrath played well and Sexton was Sexton. Chances of avoiding disaster rest squarely on his shoulders. Bundee Aki was awful, but we know he's capable of better and from Garry Ringrose out the players played well. The problem was that the cohesion is way off.

Ireland travelled to Fukuoka this morning and, with no game for eight days, they have the weekend off. When they reconvene on Monday, they should not kid themselves that this was a good performance. Accept the issues, fix them and move on.

Otherwise, they will join the ranks of every other Irish team that has gone before them in the World Cup era.

After a glorious 2018, this group was supposed to be different. Right now, it looks like we're watching the same old story unfold in front of our eyes.

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