Ireland look to steady Rugby World Cup campaign against Russia
Kobe (Japan) (AFP)
It is a game Ireland dare not lose and one in a sense they cannot 'win' when they try to revive their Rugby World Cup campaign against Russia on Thursday.
Ireland's hopes of being crowned world champions for the first time suffered a setback with a 19-12 defeat by Japan last time out.
But despite that loss, bonus-point wins over both Russia and Samoa in their final two group matches will see Ireland through to the quarter-finals after they started Pool A with a convincing 27-3 victory over old rivals Scotland.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has made 11 changes in personnel after a five-day turnaround, with fly-half Jonathan Sexton returning to the side after missing the Japan loss with a thigh injury.
Sexton, who will captain Ireland for the first time in his illustrious career, reckons the Japan defeat may have been a "blessing in disguise" because it came during the pool phase rather in the knockout stages where there is no chance of recovery.
Even allowing for the changes and humid conditions at the covered Kobe Misaki Stadium that make ball-handling difficult, Ireland should still have more than enough in their locker to see off a Russia side ranked 20th in the world.
Their only previous World Cup meeting saw Ireland hammer Russia 62-12 eight years ago.
But Schmidt said it was important Ireland did not get ahead of themselves in the pursuit of a precious bonus point, achieved by scoring four tries.
"We can't put anything on the scoreboard without getting the things we need to put in place," the New Zealander said.
- 'Toughest challenge' -
Meanwhile Russia coach Lyn Jones has made nine changes to a side that conceded six tries in a 34-9 defeat by Samoa. That reverse came just four days after they had posed Japan problems in a 30-10 opening defeat by the tournament hosts.
The Welshman has six new faces in the pack, as Russia aim to take Ireland on up front.
Jones, however, was under no illusions about the scale of the task confronting his side.
"We are facing probably the toughest challenge that Russian rugby has ever faced. We take on one of the best teams in the world, Ireland.
"The challenge for us is to make sure that we make life as difficult for Ireland and to score as many tries as we can," he added.
Thursday's match will witness a family reunion, with Russia forwards coach Mark McDermott the uncle of Ireland wing Andrew Conway.
"They're going to have some sort of reaction to what happened last week against Japan," McDermott told the Irish Independent.
"It's kind of hard to believe that Ireland found themselves in this position."
As for his nephew Conway, he added: "Everyone knew his attacking ability, but there were question marks over his defence and his high ball ability. But he is one of the best in the business now."
© 2019 AFP