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Scrum critics will fire up Cian Healy: Joe Schmidt


Firing line: Japan have criticised Cian Healy and claimed his scrummaging technique is illegal, but Ireland boss Joe Schmidt has hit back
Firing line: Japan have criticised Cian Healy and claimed his scrummaging technique is illegal, but Ireland boss Joe Schmidt has hit back
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland's Cian Healy began his week sat in front of the media in Yokohama once again preaching the value of "the bubble".

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"We don't really hear the outside," said Joe Schmidt's starting loosehead for tomorrow's game with Japan. "We're in the bubble.

"We live together, work together. Our talk, within us, is what we focus on."

Come yesterday, though, something had pierced through the supposedly impenetrable shield, namely the comments coming out of Japan questioning the legality or otherwise of Healy's scrummaging technique.

It began on Tuesday when prop Yusuke Kizu, incidentally not in the Japan 23, opined that the Leinsterman was prone to stepping outside and coming in on the angle in the set-piece.

It was a headline-grabbing statement from the 23-year-old and clearly one that caught the attention of Schmidt.

"It's hard to step out when you've got your right shoulder out and you're nice and square," the Ireland coach fired back yesterday in his first media briefing since Kizu's broadside.

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"I think we'll be probably, if not the least, one of the least penalised scrums in international rugby. I think we do our very best to scrum square.

"We don't step left. Sometimes it's impossible not to step left when the opposition does it because the scrum operates on an axis and if the centre of that axis is moved by the opposition then it's pretty much impossible when you get shifted, not to shift your left foot.

"In any situation, you could show scrums where any team have taken a slight left step because it's happened on the far side of the scrum.

"Because the axis pivots on (Rory) Best for us and obviously Shota Horie for them, if it does shift, then the scrum is one being and everyone shifts a little bit. Certainly what was said by Kizu was a big surprise for us. It will probably provide a little motivation for Cian when it comes to the game on Saturday."

Speaking later when he named his Japan squad, Jamie Joseph made allowances for Kizu's age and the Toyota Verblitz man's relative lack of familiarity with media duties.

What he didn't do, however, was refute the claim, sandwiching another accusation of illegal activity into his response.

"Kizu is a young man, probably his first media experience," said Joseph. "We're coming up against a very strong scrum. Yes, at times they are illegal, but at all times they are a very strong scrum.

"We know that's a difficult part of the game, but we've really improved our scrum and lineout. And it's an area we've been focusing on all week."

Referee Angus Gardner will clearly be a man under the microscope come scrum time then and he'll be feeling the pressure himself after drawing the ire of Argentina coach Mario Ledesma after the Pumas' loss to France last weekend.

Refereeing has, of course, been a hot topic with World Rugby issuing a statement on Tuesday saying match officials "were not consistently of the standards set by World Rugby and themselves".

Schmidt did little to ease the pressure on Gardner, admitting he hadn't been happy with the Australian's performance when he last took charge of Ireland, against Wales in Cardiff to finish up the Six Nations.

"Obviously last time we had Angus it wasn't great for us," Schmidt said. "We didn't play particularly well but we didn't feel we got a lot of the rub of the green from Angus either.

"If you look back at the scrum we went straight through the middle of the Welsh scrum to get a turnover ball very early and then when they ran around the corner we got no receipt (of penalties) from that and they were given penalty rewards, which was incredibly frustrating.

"I think that the officials are going to be as nailed as they possibly can be and Angus is no different. They're going to be looking to be as accurate as they possibly can be, and that's the whole team of four.

"We saw a couple of citings from the game in our pool on Tuesday where the officials as a team decided they were yellow cards and then they were cited later as reds, so nobody is really operating in isolation now.

"The referee is very much reliant on his ARs and his TMOs to be a team of four and so I think Angus will be leading that team but it will be a team effort from the officials and they've been given a stir up from World Rugby and I know when these players that I work with get a stir up, they come out and they're very focused.

"So we'd have confidence that the officials are going to be good this weekend."

Japan, meanwhile, will go into the game without captain Michael Leitch in their starting line-up, the formidable flanker dropping to the bench, although key man Amanake Mafi is back to start at No.8.

"What I believe around the game, in terms of our bench, is that we've got to have an impact," Joseph said of his decision. "If we're going to be in a position to win the match it's going to come down to the last five or 10 minutes, and we'll need clear leadership.

"We have a lot of quality loose-forwards and in-form players, so we have in-form players playing really well and experienced players coming on. As a coach, I get to have both things."

Teams for Ireland v Japan in Pool A of the World Cup on Saturday, September 28 (8.15am)

Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster), K Earls (Munster), G Ringrose (Leinster), C Farrell (Munster), J Stockdale (Ulster), J Carty (Connacht), C Murray (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), T Furlong, J Ryan (both Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), J Van Der Flier (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster).

Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (both Munster), A Porter (Leinster), T Beirne (Munster), R Ruddock, L McGrath (both Leinster), J Carbery (Munster), J Larmour (Leinster).

Japan: R Yamanaka, K Matsushima, T Lafaele, R Nakamura, W Tupou, Y Tamura, Y Nagare; K Inagaki, S Horie, J Koo, L Thompson, J Moore, K Himeno, P Labuschagne (capt), A Mafi.

Replacements: A Sakate, I Nakajima, A Valu, W Van Der Walt, M Leitch, F Tanaka, R Matsuda, L Lemeki.

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