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Why Andy Farrell is unimpressed by Ireland's defensive tally at Rugby World Cup

Stepping up: Andy Farrell wants Ireland to engage higher gear
Stepping up: Andy Farrell wants Ireland to engage higher gear
Joey Carbery

By Cian Tracey

Of all the 20 teams competing for the World Cup in Japan, only England have conceded fewer points than Ireland.

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Considering Eddie Jones' side have strolled through their pool, it puts Ireland's achievement into perspective.

The one statistic that really matters, however, is that England have a 100 per cent winning record going into the final week of the pool stages, while Ireland have already lost one game. The All Blacks have also only conceded 22 points, which is two more than England after three games.

If we are to go by the old adage of 'defence wins championships' then Ireland should be in the mix over the coming weeks. If only it were that simple.

Joe Schmidt's men arrive at their final pool game against Samoa on Saturday with plenty of questions still hanging over them, not least in attack.

We saw glimpses of what they are capable of in the win over Russia but, as a whole, it wasn't all that convincing. They do, however, have a solid platform from which to work off as Andy Farrell appears to have plugged a few holes in his defence.

Japan have already shown what a quality side they are, and for Ireland to have conceded only one try in three games is a pretty good record.

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If they can keep Samoa try-less this weekend, and end up in a quarter-final against either South Africa or New Zealand, Ireland can take a huge amount of confidence into what would be a very tough encounter.

Although Farrell has been impressed by what he has seen from his defence, he believes there is still plenty of room for improvement.

"Points don't mean much really. I have said to you guys before as well about the number of the tries. We have had one scored against us; am I happy with that?" he said.

"I think our performances can be better, and hopefully they will be better when it matters.

"There are certain aspects of our defensive game that has been strong, physical and asking questions of the opposition. There have been certain aspects of that that have been below those standards as well.

"I was pleased in the Russia game, albeit they didn't threaten too much. I was pleased with how we kept our focus and didn't let it drop, because it is easy to do in games like that."

Ireland are looking for a noticeable step up in their all-round game against a Samoan outfit who will come into the clash with a point to prove.

The scheduling hasn't been all that kind, while they also feel that they have been on the end of some harsh refereeing decisions.

That said, some of their tackling has been borderline, which naturally enough has resulted in them receiving a plethora of cards of both colours.

At the start of the tournament, Schmidt would have devised a plan that would have prepared for all eventualities - one of them being that his side arrive at the final pool game needing to get a bonus-point win to advance.

It is hardly ideal to feel like your hand is somewhat forced in terms of your selection, but the likes of Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Joey Carbery are all in need of game time ahead of the potential quarter-final.

Samoa will want to ruffle a few feathers in that regard, and that is before we mention the surface at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, which has been the worst we have seen in the tournament. It must not fill Schmidt with much confidence to put Carbery, who has been struggling with an ankle injury, back into the mix.

For all of that, Farrell insists that the coaching staff won't feel any extra pressure when it comes to picking a matchday squad.

"We'll do what's right for Ireland and for the team. If I was playing for Samoa, this is their last game of the World Cup and you want to be going back home with a smile on your face, so I've no doubt they want this to be their best performance," he said.

"(We want to see) a bit of fluidity in our all-round game. In the last couple of games, there has been a bit of access given to the opposition through not just one area of the game but quite a few.

"We have normally been a side that prides ourselves on staying in the moment, and we are hoping to get back to that at the weekend."

Apart from typhoons, tackle technique continues to be the biggest talking point at this World Cup.

Owen Farrell was on the receiving end of the latest high shot against Argentina and was lucky to avoid a serious injury.

As a defence coach, Farrell senior is adamant that changes must be made at all levels.

"What people don't realise, and I'll share it with you guys because it is important to get out there, that your head, it might sound funny this, but it's super-important to almost lead with your head," he added.

"If somebody is a metre in front of me and I put my head down, then if he moves slightly, I'm not in charge of what happens to my head whatsoever.

"If I lead with my head and get it through, then my head's out of the way, and that's what we need to be coaching kids, 100 per cent."

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