By Padraic Halpin
KOBE, Japan (Reuters) – There were more things that pleased Joe Schmidt than not after Ireland took over an hour to secure a bonus point win against Russia in tough conditions the coach described as playing a role in the second half slog.
Five days after their shock Pool A loss to hosts Japan, Ireland started fast but struggled to put away Russia in the 35-0 victory under the closed roof at the Kobe Misaki Stadium that led to slippery conditions on the pitch.
Schmidt noted how Scotland dispatched Samoa by a similar margin in the same ground on Monday – although England ran in seven tries in Kobe last week – when he said he was happy with the performance, even if people may have expected more.
“I think there were more things that pleased me definitely. We started really well again and then we made a bit of hard work of it but I think one of our plans was to get a few scores early, because we knew it was going to get more and more difficult as time went one,” Schmidt told a news conference.
“I don’t think we lost our way, we just didn’t convert some chances. In that third quarter, there was a little bit of frustration. At the same time I’m pretty realistic about how tough conditions were out there… In this tournament you can get what you need from each game, we still keep control of whatever outcome we get at the end of the pool.”
Ireland just need to beat Samoa to reach the last eight and can finish top of the pool if Japan slip up, an outcome that will decide whether they face world champions New Zealand or Rugby Championship winners South Africa in the quarter-finals.
Captain for the day Johnny Sexton, who looked sharp and fully fit in his return at flyhalf, said it was impossible to say how far away Ireland were to finding the kind of form that would see them past either team and into a first semi-final.
“It’s very hard to say after a game like that. After Scotland we thought we were in a brilliant place, after Japan we were fairly low and today we did a job and are we are very pleased to get the job done,” Sexton said.
After a tough 180 minutes in humid conditions that Schmidt admitted were foreign to his players, he hoped the weather would take a turn and more closely resemble what they are used to in the Northern Hemisphere the longer the tournament goes on.
“I have heard that it does start to cool off in October. It’s October. So I’m hopeful that conditions will change a little bit and we won’t have to adjust quite as much to them,” the New Zealander said with a smile.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)