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Ireland on dodgy ground as they pitch up for Samoa clash

 

Fever pitch: Joe Schmidt inspects surface
Fever pitch: Joe Schmidt inspects surface
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

While Scotland prepared for legal action should they not get to play their game with Japan in Yokohama tomorrow, Ireland became embroiled in controversy of their own at another incredible day at the Rugby World Cup.

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Joe Schmidt's men will play Samoa in Fukuoka this morning (11.45am UK time) knowing a bonus-point win seals their spot in the quarter-finals regardless of whether Typhoon Hagibis wipes out the other deciding game in Pool A but the state of the pitch at the Hakatanomori Stadium has provided a huge talking point.

After the surface cut up badly during previous games at the venue, the turf has been relayed ahead of today's key clash but still looked in a sorry state.

At the team's captain's run yesterday, Fivemiletown man Chris Farrell was able to lift an entire patch of grass and place a full-size rugby ball underneath as a laughing Jacob Stockdale watched on.

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek, whose own area of expertise threatens to be most affected, told media in attendance: "You've seen the pitch for yourselves. Obviously the organisers told us and both teams know about it, we know they had to relay the pitch. We went out there and just had an inspection and we have been given all the assurances by World Rugby that it's safe to play on and that's all we can ask for."

Coach Feek added: “Obviously I don’t want to predict anything or cause any more controversy at this stage. We will just try to back the players, trust that the pitch will do its job.

“We are trying to alleviate any concerns while we are out there but then it’s just a matter of wait and see.

“The referee (Nic Berry) will be aware of it, so that’s the key. All the communication is there.”

Winger Keith Earls was diplomatic, suggesting that the pitch would likely play better than it looked.

“It doesn’t look great, to be honest with you but actually out there, it’s flat and it’s quite firm,” said the Munsterman.

“It doesn’t feel too bad to run on. Like what Feeky said, it has been inspected and it has been deemed playable. That’s the way it felt out there.

“I suppose it’s going to be the same for both teams. We just have to get on with the job.”

Another controversy in a chaotic week, the pictures of Ireland examining the surface were shared widely online and prompted a statement from World Rugby.

“We are confident in the integrity of the new Fukuoka pitch for Ireland v Samoa,” it read. “With the stability and performance the key considerations, World Rugby and JR 2019 took the decision to re-turf the playing surface following significant wear caused by the France versus USA match after heavy rainfall as a consequence of Typhoon 17. The primary driver was player welfare.

“The tournament has dedicated nurseries where back-up turf is meticulously prepared in line with Rugby World Cup standards. While the look of the turf may not be perfect, as would be expected with a very recent installation, we are confident that the pitch will perform superbly.”

Meanwhile a war of words broke out between World Rugby and the Scottish Rugby Union after Murrayfield chief executive Mark Dodson urged the global governing body to see sense and push their win-or-bust showdown with Japan out of Super Typhoon Hagibis’ path of destruction.

Dodson made his call as he refused to rule out taking legal action to make sure the climax to Pool A at Yokohama’s International Stadium goes ahead.

But that sparked an angry response from World Rugby, who said they were “disappointed” with Dodson’s comments, insisting the Scots were happy to sign up to the rules which prohibit pool matches being rescheduled before the tournament.

Scotland could be knocked out of the competition without kicking another ball if the “explosive” super storm forces tomorrow’s quarter-final decider to be cancelled. Dodson wants the game pushed back 24 hours, claiming World Rugby would be risking the “sporting integrity” of the competition if they stick to their decision that the game must be played tomorrow or not at all.

Typhoon Hagibis has already forced the cancellation of England v France and New Zealand v Italy.

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