Ireland hope to be pitch perfect against Samoa after playing down turf wars


Ireland have expressed concerns with the state of the Hakatanomori Stadium pitch ahead of Saturday’s decisive Pool A World Cup clash with Samoa.

Scrum coach Greg Feek revealed governing body World Rugby have given both Ireland and Samoa “assurances” that the pitch at the Fukuoka stadium remains safe for action.

Large swathes of the turf were relaid in the wake of Italy’s 48-7 win over Canada, and then again after France dispatched the USA 33-9.

Ireland v Russia – Pool A – 2019 Rugby World Cup – Kobe Misaki Stadium
Ireland v Russia – Pool A – 2019 Rugby World Cup – Kobe Misaki Stadium

Head coach Joe Schmidt appeared frustrated by the state of the pitch at Ireland’s captain’s run training session on Friday.

The Ireland boss spent minutes examining problematic strips of turf, showing several areas to both scrum coach Feek and Ireland’s head of operations Ger Carmody.

“You guys are pretty smart individuals, and you would have seen the pitch yourselves,” said Ireland assistant coach Feek.

“They told us in an email, both teams know about it. We knew they had had to relay the pitch.

“So we just went out there, had an inspection and we’ve been given all the assurances by World Rugby that it’s safe to play on and that’s all we can ask for.

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“Obviously I don’t want to predict anything or cause any more controversy at this stage.

“We just try to back the players, trust that the pitch will do its job.

“We were trying to alleviate any concerns when we were out there, but then it’s just a matter of wait and see.

“The referee will be aware of it, and what’s key is the communication is there.”

Specialist scrum coach Feek admitted the set-piece battle could well be where the below-par pitch is most tested at the weekend.

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Asked whether scrummaging could prove the biggest problem, Feek continued: “That’s always my concern, no matter whether it’s training or on the match pitch.

“When it comes to a static isometric position where there’s a couple of big packs going at it you’re always going to be cautious and ask the questions.

“So we’ve just got to prepare our guys as best we can but make sure the scrums stay up, not just for safety but also for the match too.”

Ireland must beat Samoa with a bonus-point to guarantee safe passage to the World Cup quarter-finals.

Scotland’s final Pool A clash against Japan in Yokohama on Sunday remains under threat of cancellation due to Typhoon Hagibis.

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A cancellation there would see the match ruled a scoreless draw with both teams awarded two points. That would leave Ireland unable to leapfrog Japan to top the pool, so even a bonus-point win over Samoa would then tee up a last-eight clash with New Zealand.

Ireland’s strongest grievance with the state of the pitch in Fukuoka revolves around player safety, with the very obvious joins in the sections of turf creating problems for footing or stray studs.

Wing Keith Earls suggested the surface perhaps looks more problematic than it feels underfoot.

“It doesn’t look great to be honest with you, but it’s flat and quite firm,” said Earls.

“It doesn’t feel too bad to run on. It’s been inspected and deemed playable and that’s the way it felt out there today.

“It’s going to be the same for both teams, and we’ll just have to get on with the job.”