With their final pool match against Scotland not until Saturday week, the Ireland players are currently enjoying a few days of rest and downtime with their loved ones and families in France.
Last Saturday’s enthralling 13-8 win over South Africa has Andy Farrell’s men on the brink of qualification for the quarter-finals, but it will count for nothing unless they go on and complete the job in the upcoming Celtic derby in Paris.
By the time they begin their next match week, Ireland (14 points) could be in second spot and a point behind South Africa who complete their Pool B campaign against Tonga on Sunday. 24 hours earlier, Scotland will most likely have beaten Romania to push themselves on to 10 points.
Knowing what tough opponents the Scots are and what is on the line for both teams on October 7, captain Jonathan Sexton says they will build towards another big performance as only that will suffice in the battle for last-eight places.
“It’s all about Scotland now, and we’re not thinking about anything beyond that,” he said. “Scotland are an excellent team. I think that they would be frustrated about how they played against South Africa (earlier in the tournament).
After the first three rounds of the World Cup, Sexton is the highest points scorer with 45 following his conversion and penalty against the Springboks. The ever-impressive Bundee Aki tops the categories for carries made (53), metres made (487), defenders beaten (22) and break passes (5).
In the team categories, Ireland lead the way for carries made (389), metres made (1869), line breaks (32), defenders beaten (95), passes made (592) and the largest average share of territory (57%).
However, the average Irish ruck speed – a tournament high previously – was slowed up significantly by South Africa. It was 4.83 seconds in their titanic third round tussle, while the Grand Slam champions are now just 16th in the competition for lineout success (75%), and joint-last for lineouts lost per game (4).
That leaves them with some obvious areas to work on for their showdown with Scotland, as scrum coach John Fogarty acknowledged: “We are very clear on Scotland. They have improved year on year.
“Looking at their forwards and at them across the pitch, it’s always a challenge to play against them. They’re a little bit unpredictable in their back-line but they’ve got a gnarly pack.
“So, for us I know we’ll take our break now, get the rest and recovery in, we can get so many gains from that (South Africa) game if we properly recover. But we’ll start planning and preparing for Scotland in the days ahead.”
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend says they are ‘going to have to do it the hard way’ but he believes in his players. “We have to get to 10 points to make sure it’s a straight shoot-out with Ireland,” he said. “Then if we were to beat Ireland by more than seven points we go through to the quarter-finals.”
The Irish scrum has stood up well in recent weeks against two monster packs in Tonga and South Africa. Fogarty’s set-piece preparations with the forwards in combating that size and power were given a rigorous test, especially by the 2019 winners’ forward-laden bench.
The former Munster, Connacht and Leinster hooker, who won his one Ireland cap against New Zealand in the summer of 2010, praised the composure shown by the pack in dealing with the pressure the Springboks put on at scrum time.
“I was very proud of the lads. Like the game itself, it’s such small margins. There were times when we felt in control and times when we were under pressure,” explained Fogarty.
“We had a good plan and the height we scrummaged off, we were very connected with dealing with that weight. Just before half-time, I could see some movement left and the scrum creaked a little bit.
“At half-time there was a reset of mentality, going back and understanding the plan. The lads were excellent in how they did that in the second half. It was a bit up and down and we were dealing with some bodies off the bench, with a bit more weight.
There were moments when we were under pressure, but the players were able to be composed, taking the breaks when they had them, clearing their heads, reconnecting with each other and going back at them.
“The ability to stay composed when we were really under serious pressure was probably the most pleasing thing.
“Sometimes in a game that can build and you’re racing in your heads, but the lads stayed clear in their heads as to what the plan was. We managed to fight back in that second half.”
Ireland’s solidity in the scrums contributed a huge amount on the night, earning two penalties (the first one on a ‘Boks put-in and the second one at an Irish feed) which Sexton and his replacement Jack Crowley converted to ultimately give a winning margin of five points.
Prop Andrew Porter must be up there as one of Ireland’s players of the tournament so far. He was on the pitch for almost 75 minutes against Jacques Nienaber’s charges, holding his own in scrums against formidable tighthead Frans Malherbe and his replacement Trevor Nyakane.
With a superb level of physicality and work-rate on both sides of the ball, Porter also weighed in with seven carries and landed six tackles. Fogarty feels the 27-year-old Dubliner is really peaking at the right time in terms of his performances.
“Andrew was absolutely immense, across the pitch. To do what he did at scrum time and set-piece is one thing and something he can be very proud of. But to back it up around the field – his defence was excellent, his ability to get off the ground and give people energy.
“He took a few carries that he needed to make metres in and worked unbelievably hard through those carries. We are very lucky to have him.
“He is a resilient guy, he has real physicality and a huge engine and appetite for the game. He is working really well with the team at the moment,” he added.