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It's time for Ireland to front up and forget difficult World Cup conditions: Henderson


Power: Iain Henderson makes a break against Scotland in Ireland’s World Cup opener in Yokohama
Power: Iain Henderson makes a break against Scotland in Ireland’s World Cup opener in Yokohama
Iain Henderson
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

As Typhoon Hagibis seems to be veering in a more northerly direction and towards the weekend's games in Tokyo and Yokohama, Ireland look set to be spared the very worst weather that Japan has to offer at this World Cup, yet the conditions remain a key talking point here as the pool stages draw to a close and Joe Schmidt's side prepare for Saturday's must-win clash against Samoa in Fukuoka.

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While the last few days have been noticeably more manageable, all manner of unusual training ground tactics have been attempted by teams in the build-up to the tournament and yet the high humidity is still taking its toll. While no World Cup will ultimately be judged on its pool stages, oftentimes it would appear it's been to the detriment of the quality of the contests.

From the heavy rain in Yokohama, to the heat of Shizuoka and the humidity of the roofed Kobe Misaki, Ireland have run the full gamut so far with Ulster lock Iain Henderson admitting that each game has provided a different test that no amount of preparation has readied them for.

"Every game that we've played the conditions have been different," he said. "Difficult, but different.

"In the Japan game the air felt heavy and at times it was difficult to get a breath. That's probably a combination of heat, humidity, tiredness, it being a fast-paced game. A number of those factors will have played a part.

"Like we've had training in brutal enough conditions in the middle of the day and it's one of the things we'd tried to prepare for back home, the water loss, being dehydrated, sweating a lot, warm weather camps, but nothing has quite compared to what it has been.

"But it's the same for the other team too so you can either front up and adapt to what the conditions are or you can look back at it as an excuse."

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The theory that both sides are equally afflicted doesn't particularly apply to the devastating loss at the hands of the host nation that has left their quarter-final spot as yet unconfirmed, neither likely would it do so against Samoa, the Pacific Islanders a nation used to such humidity themselves.

Furthermore, there is an idea that the type of game Ireland built their 2018 successes around is ill-suited to this part of the world. With error-rates high across the board, the kind of minute upon minute ball retention that was a hallmark of the Grand Slam becomes near-impossible.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the teams less reliant on their forwards wrestling the upper hand have been able to rack up the type of big score that would have considerably eased concerns back home regarding the performance level against Russia in Kobe a week ago.

"The teams that are throwing it around a bit do seem to be getting a bit more of the interesting play," admitted Henderson. "But generally the teams that do that do look a bit more interesting anyway.

"I think us playing Scotland, both teams were trying to do a similar thing but when you come up against a team that is trying to play it a bit wider, maybe if you're not as prepared for it you won't have the best outcome."

If there remains a perception that Ireland's game all of a sudden has become as changeable as the Japanese weather forecasts, then both are due some variation over the coming weeks.

As summer here belatedly makes way for the less humid autumn, conditions should become easier. Ireland, meanwhile, know it's now or never.

Having hit their peak to date against Scotland first-up, the shock defeat to Japan and failure to convince against Russia paints a picture of a team struggling for consistency. Coupled with the fact that a side who had won 18 of their last 19 prior to 2019 have failed to bank four in a row since, and it paints a concerning picture.

Now, when the tournament reaches the point of win-or-go-home, there is no room for the kind of blips that have blighted the final months of Schmidt's tenure with Henderson admitting this week has already brought a sense of upping the ante.

"Obviously when you get towards the back-end of the World Cup and the knock-outs (it's must-win)," he said.

"That's started a week earlier than we would have liked it to which has upped the intensity up across training and meetings.

"You see everyone putting in a bit of extra time, be it video analysis or a bit of extra time in the gym before we hit the pitch just to make sure everybody is right and as nailed on as possible for the weekend. You can feel that having built throughout the weeks.

"All we can hope for is that it comes to fruition over the weekend."

Having already suffered the one loss their World Cup hopes could afford, the only other option remains unpalatable.

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