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Ireland face fight to keep cool in heat of Kobe battle

Fan power: Peter O’Mahony and Jordi Murphy meet some young fans during yesterday’s training session in Kobe
Fan power: Peter O’Mahony and Jordi Murphy meet some young fans during yesterday’s training session in Kobe
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Take a late night stroll through some of the quieter Japanese neighbourhoods and your walk is usually sound-tracked by the near constant chirping of crickets.

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There was a similar click in the stands at the Kobe Misaki Stadium on Monday night -when the PA system allowed - as spectators ahead of Scotland v Samoa sliced improvised fans through the hot and heavy air in a fruitless effort to cool themselves down as kick-off approached.

If those in the stands were struggling, spare a thought for the players at pitch level where the humidity was even higher.

Per World Rugby rules, if the roof of the domed stadium is closed for one game in the tournament, it must be closed for all. No Principality Stadium week-long 'Roof Gate' here, it seems.

And, with the threat of typhoons never too far away, that means that all four World Cup games in the city of Kobe will be played indoors.

The logic is clear - nothing would leave an organisation more red-faced than having to abandon a game due to adverse weather in an open roofed stadium - but has essentially created the rugby version of sauna. The games have suffered as a result and Ireland's clash with Russia tomorrow would be bucking a trend should multi-phase play be a feature.

While Scotland did enough to get the required four tries, it was a stop-start occasion that will not go down as one of the more thrilling contests of this tournament. In all, 34 turnovers occurred, with players losing their footing as well as their handle on the ball, but even that total was an improvement on the USA v England game played at the stadium last week.

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Teams have tried all sorts of things to prepare - from running drills in bin bags (Ireland) to dousing their training balls in shampoo or baby oil (Wales and Scotland) but they've been proving no match for the Kobe Misaki.

The Ireland players watched that Scotland and Samoa match over dinner in the team room on Monday, while Andy Farrell was in touch with son Owen, who led the England team out in the stadium against the Eagles.

"It's just making sure our ball focus and concentration is in relation to catching the ball first - because it seems to be a problem in this stadium - and then deciding what we're going to do with it," warned skills coach Richie Murphy yesterday.

"It's making sure we back each other up and that the team play for each other."

Having found it impossible to dry his hands on a jersey saturated with sweat in Shizuoka, CJ Stander has taken to wearing sweat bands around his wrists but it will be a different challenge again at a stadium where Samoa captain Jack Lam likened the ball to a "bar of soap."

The same for both sides, Joe Schmidt admitted that he may look to his bench more quickly than usual in an effort to, as he put it, "share the load."

"I had a couple of brothers who went to the England game and they said that they were saturated just sitting watching it," he said. "Even a couple of guys in among your group (journalists) that I was talking to just said they were thinking of leaving after 60 minutes because they'd dissolved at that stage.

"Once you get out there and actually try to play in it, it's going to be a real challenge. Again for us, it's going to be a squad challenge.

"We're going to have to make sure we manage our bench really well so that we can share the load effectively because I do think it is going to be tiring but we can't be too distracted by that.

"We've got to have a plan in place. I think there was a 20 minute water break, just because dehydration levels become excessive if humidity is that high and people are virtually swimming in sweat.

"The good thing is if you play a quarter and you can actually grab a minute just to re-hydrate, galvanise yourselves and go for another 20, then we can get in to an air conditioned changing room; try to get temperatures and probably dry jerseys on, lots of towels and put a dry team back out for at least 30 or 40 seconds before they sweat up again and do their best to stay in the game."

Things will be slippery for sure. After the Japan loss, what Ireland can't afford is a slip up.

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