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Ruaidhri O'Connor: Rory Best and Iain Henderson's strange messages have raised questions over Ireland's World Cup preparation

Interesting comments: Iain Henderson and Rory Best
Interesting comments: Iain Henderson and Rory Best

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

For most of the week, Ireland have been on message and impressively so. One by one, they have come out in press conferences and given the impression they remain confident in their ability to make a dent on this World Cup.

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There have been moments, however, to make you wonder.

Last Friday, during a highly impressive interview at the team hotel in Kobe before Ireland made their way to Fukuoka, captain Rory Best planted the seed that Irish rugby players are at a genetic disadvantage to some opponents in Japan.

And then, yesterday, his Ulster colleague Iain Henderson suggested they'd taken their eye off the ball in their preparations for the defeat to the host nation in Shizuoka.

Given Best suggested they thought they had the game won after 20 minutes, it smacked of a dangerous level of complacency at odds with this team's reputation as being one of the best prepared in the world.

"Playing Scotland, both teams were trying to do a similar thing," Henderson said when asked about teams adapting better to the humid conditions.

"But, when you come up against a team trying to play it a bit wider, maybe if you're not as prepared for it you won't have the best outcome."

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He went on to say that the teams who are throwing the ball around appear to be getting the most reward in Japan, but Ireland have played with lots of intent without having the accuracy to pull things off.

Perhaps pivoting to a more expansive game at this late stage is a stretch too far. But it's the idea that Ireland were not prepared for what Japan threw at them that perturbs.

The Brave Blossoms are nothing if not consistent in their approach. Under Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown, they've committed to a wide-wide strategy with their forwards well able to win collisions and their passing game more than capable of getting the ball to the edges.

Ireland played against them twice two summers ago, winning both times, but the word from the camp was they caused enough problems to leave a lasting impression.

So, it seems unusual that an Ireland front-liner, who missed those matches because of his Lions involvement, would suggest they didn't see it coming.

If they weren't able to handle Japan's combination of high speed and high skills, you'd be worried about their capacity to take on the All Blacks if pitted against them in the quarters.

If they are concerned about their struggles in the collision against more powerful, genetically superior teams then they're going to struggle against South Africa if they face the Boks in the last-eight.

Still, the positive noises come from behind the microphones where the reassurance comes thick and fast.

Although it will be played on a poor pitch and against a highly-charged, physical Samoa side, Saturday's pool finale may be the perfect warm-up.

The Islanders are playing for pride, but pride is all they need. They don't feel like a win over Russia is just reward for their efforts and are determined to finish on a high.

With their powerful runners and teak-tough tacklers, Samoa will offer a proper physical test.

Truly, Best's comments on genetic disadvantages will ring hollow against a team with incredible physical gifts but little or no backing from their own union.

Samoa could be a real proposition at this tournament, but instead they are an entertaining sideshow who can never achieve unless there are major changes at administrative level.

The quarter-final is looming large, but Samoa are a team worthy of Ireland's full attention.

One more blip and it will all come crashing down. Fail to prepare and all of that.

Belfast Telegraph


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