Ireland v Samoa: Irish facing up to a no-win situation
Sometimes professional sportsmen talk about “a no win game”. What they mean is one they are expected to win comfortably, for which reason they know they will get little or no credit for doing so. They also know they will be pilloried by the public and media alike should they fail, hence “no win”.
Today, in Dublin, Ireland face just such a fixture.
They are at home, they are five places above Samoa in the world rankings — 6th and 11th respectively — and they have won three of the four matches between the countries.
Ireland ought to be looking forward to strutting their stuff at their gleaming new stadium.
But in the back of their minds will be defeats by Scotland, the Barbarians, New Zealand, New Zealand Maori, Australia and South Africa. A pretty dire sequence by a team hoping to be taken seriously as World Cup hopefuls.
Following the highs of 2009 when Ireland’s 13-match record was 12 victories and a draw — a run which included a Grand Slam, of course — the second half of 2010 has been in stark contrast.
Thus, they go into today’s match having lost each of their past half-dozen outings.
Next up after today comes a clash with the All Blacks. On current form one would be hard pressed to come up with reasons to believe Declan Kidney’s men are likely to upstage the side currently ranked the world’s best a week from now.
It is easier to make a case for the probability of an Irish success today, though Kidney’s latest comments have made it plain that if they are to achieve it the platform must be laid in the first quarter and added to in the remaining hour.
“They (Samoa) will be very keen to start off this tour well and back up their Pacific Nations Cup win.
“That can give them momentum and that's why the first 20 minutes will be very important,” Kidney warned. Expect a green bats out of hell start.
The replacements he finally named for this afternoon’s showdown also suggest a worry that he may need to turn to some of his big guns if his much-changed line-up fails to deliver.
Rory Best, Cian Healy, Stephen Ferris, Jonathan Sexton and Keith Earls all started against South Africa while Donnacha Ryan joined the game from the bench.
That means Isaac Boss — today’s scrum-half Peter Stringer’s understudy — is the sole unexpected inclusion among the seven in waiting.
Unexpected because although the New Zealand-born pivot has a dozen Irish caps he has not played international rugby since entering the fray in the 2007 World Cup Pool D match against Argentina at Parc des Princes where he replaced Eoin Reddan.
Reddan had a poor match against the Springboks a week ago and if Boss gets a chance this afternoon he could do himself a huge pecking order favour — and deal his Leinster colleague a massive blow — by grasping it.
After 108 Ulster appearances, Boss joined Leinster during the summer and his restoration to the international match-day 22 suggests that move is paying off.
Meanwhile, another former Ulster scrum-half inadvertently was involved in an incident which has seen Samoa forced to make a change to their plans.
The tourists’ replacement hooker, Ti'i Paulo, was withdrawn yesterday after being cited for two incidents of foul play in Samoa’s defeat by Connacht in Galway on Tuesday. Paulo, who started that match, was sin-binned in the second half for a high tackle on Cillian Willis, another scrum-half who left Ulster during the summer.
The Samoan was cited by the independent Six Nations Citing Commissioner Aurwel Morgan and the disciplinary rules means that he is ineligible to play until a hearing has been held.
But one would like to think that Ireland’s focus will be on what they can do to help themselves this afternoon rather than on how rules on eligibility may assist them.
In view of their results in the second half of 2010, they need two things — a convincing performance culminating in a big victory.
If they are to rekindle faith and start attracting the missing thousands to the Aviva Stadium, nothing less will do today.