Time for Ireland to get torn into the Samoans
Six successive defeats find Ireland in serious need of a win.
Four of those losses have been in Test matches with three of that quartet having come at the hands of the southern hemisphere giants New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, currently ranked first, second and third in world rugby.
Ireland have a very good chance of stopping the rot tomorrow, albeit temporarily given that the All Blacks come to Dublin next weekend.
The status of tomorrow’s opponents is somewhat more modest. Currently Samoa are 11th and that being the case Ireland are expected to beat them comfortably.
But at this stage they need a decent performance, too. For if the IRFU are going to keep charging the sort of money they have been asking for tickets then Joe and Joan Public are entitled to expect a little entertainment in exchange for their hard-earned money rather than watching a victory dug out as a result of pure grit rather than one fashioned by virtue of style and grace.
There promises to be an awful lot of unoccupied green seats at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow afternoon and Ireland must start providing good reasons as to why the missing thousands should consider returning to fill them.
In the circumstances and all things considered, Samoa’s arrival is timely.
For whilst we are told that victory should not be taken for granted, realistically any other outcome is unthinkable. Defeat really would be disastrous for Irish rugby in the countdown to a World Cup campaign.
Currently Ireland are sixth in the world rankings. Add home advantage, the desire — and need — to end the slump and the factors in Declan Kidney’s side’s favour stack up further.
So you can forget it when the players, coaches and management team go through their usual “very difficult game” routine as has been the case this week.
Make no mistake — despite any attempts at sporting diplomacy or protestations to the contrary, Kidney, Paul McNaughton, Brian O’Driscoll et al expect to win with plenty to spare.
Okay, the party line is that there is no such thing as a certainty in sport. What is certain, however, is that it would be a massive upset bordering on a major crisis if Ireland were to lose to Samoa at this stage in the countdown to a World Cup.
That has happened before, however. Indeed, today is the 14th anniversary of that remarkable setback for it was on November 12, 1996 that Samoa humbled Ireland by beating them 40-25 at their Dublin 4 home. It wasn’t totally unexpected, given that Samoa — at the time known as Western Samoa — reached the World Cup quarter-finals a year earlier, before bowing out to South Africa, the hosts and ultimate winners in 1995.
Four years earlier, too, they made it to the last eight.
Samoa, as they now are, have had their lows, too, of course, not least when they went down 101-14 to the All Blacks in 2008.
But since then they have won the Pacific Nations Cup and the Sevens World Series.
With coach Soifua John Schuster having said that his aim is to prove Samoan rugby is back on track, his Irish counterpart will hope that if there is to be proof of this in the near future it will be provided at Twickenham or Murrayfield rather than at the Aviva Stadium.
Kidney will hope, too, that for now at any rate Schuster is thwarted in a much more specific objective which he spelt out when he said: “Our immediate challenge is to beat a tier one team.”
Ireland, England and Scotland — in that order — are the tier one nations to which he was referring and each of them will be praying they do not become the reality of Schuster’s dream.
With the seldom-wrong bookmakers having installed Ireland at 1/8 and Samoa at 16/1, the focus is on the winning margin rather than the improbability of any upset.
At a new stadium where the audience will be far short of capacity, Ireland’s motivation will come from the need to produce an overdue convincing performance en route to a big win.
That, coupled with the hunger of those now called in after being omitted last week, will fire them.
As will the not so small matter of a pending date with the world’s best.
Hands up anybody who wants to play against the All Blacks on November 20.