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Joe Schmidt salutes Ireland support as 26-day phoney World Cup war begins

Wise head: Joe Schmidt isn’t looking too far ahead
Wise head: Joe Schmidt isn’t looking too far ahead

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Day one of the 26-day phoney war ahead of the match we all know is going to happen on October 20.

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Before Ireland play South Africa in the toughest quarter-final they've faced since meeting Australia in 1991, they must go through the process of paying due respect to Japan, Russia and Samoa.

In the giddy aftermath of Sun­day's win over Scotland that set Joe Schmidt's side on a collision course with Rassie Erasmus' Springboks, there was a willingness to discuss the inevitable. Yesterday, that giddiness subsided and pragmatism reigned.

Before they departed Yokohama, Ireland put logistics man Ger Car­mody and prop Cian Healy up for interview, and the Leinster man wasn't about to go down the road of discussing potential last-eight opponents.

In Nagoya, the Boks put forwards coach Matt Proudfoot up for interview and he claimed not to have seen Ireland's 27-3 win, though offered a suspiciously clear analysis of the game.

So, they dance around the topic in that way professional sportspeople do.

Ireland, of course, have the small matter of a six-day turnaround and a meeting with the hosts to focus their attention.

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Schmidt always gives opponents his full attention and, knowing the Japa­nese coaches Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown well, he will be wary of what they can produce in front of their home support.

"I was talking to a couple of my brothers who were at the game, and a whole bunch of support­ers who were there, and they said to me, 'It must be great to play away and always play at home'," Schmidt said.

"The Fields of Athenry was being pumped out, it felt like a home sta­dium in Yokohama, so hopefully there will be a few Irish who get to Shizuoka.

"But I've no doubt the Japanese will have the majority of support, being the home nation.

"We're out at a country hotel, and we're quite isolated this week. I think it's ideal for us not to have too many distractions."

Japan's highly regarded coaching ticket is giving him food for thought.

"I always thought he was a really good player, Tony Brown, and a super competitor," he said of the former All Black. "I know his brother Cory as well, he was in Connacht and he's gone on and is doing a good job coaching in New Zealand.

"Tony Brown, when he was in Ire­land, came in and spent three days with us in the national set-up - and it wasn't too long after that we ended up playing against a Tony Brown-coached side, along with Jamie Joseph, in 2017.

"He brings a real understanding of the game and a willingness to play, an encouragement to take risks but to be working hard on the skill base you have to be able to maximise the potential for those risks to have positive outcomes.

"He's a really good foil for Jamie, who's a pretty hard-nosed character, and I think they've done a terrific job."

Schmidt is considering changes, but it seems unlikely that James Ryan and Conor Murray will be pulled out of the starting XV.

"He's able to physically impose himself a little bit more," he said of Ryan. "Defensively, he's just a workaholic. He works so hard that he makes the game easier for the players playing either side of him.

"He's always looking to improve and I think the more players you can have like that, the better position you are in."

The coach honed in on Murray's role in Andrew Conway's try as a par­ticular highlight.

"He called to Andrew that it was going to come back his way as he was going to that ruck," Schmidt recalled.

"For him to have that vision, that game sense was really important for us. It was the bonus-point try.

"All round I think Conor was relatively satisfied, as were we."

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