Following a 17-13 win for Ireland over Samoa in Bayonne on Saturday, here’s our five takeaways from the Rugby World Cup warm-up clash.
Wake-up call for Ireland physically
Ireland did not select a first choice 23 by any means but there were some proven world-class performers in that side, and yet they were put under severe physical pressure by Samoa. Even players such as Caelan Doris and Josh van der Flier were shunted backwards, so it certainly gives them something to think about going into the Rugby World Cup.
Conditions made it difficult for Andy Farrell’s charges to move it through the phases, but ultimately the Samoan physicality was a big reason for that. Over the last couple of years, the Irish have been excellent at controlling the gain line, as well as the breakdown, but this shows they still need to keep developing in that area, otherwise teams will catch up.
Pacific Island cohesion
Both Fiji and Samoa have shown what they can do when they have a few months together, and have something close to the preparation that tier one sides are regularly afforded. The Flying Fijians duly stunned England and the Samoans almost followed suit against the world’s number one outfit.
Seilala Mapusua’s team were excellent in Bayonne on Saturday and gave Ireland a real fright. Crucially, they looked well coached and generally the basics were in good working order as the forwards did their jobs and the half-backs controlled field position nicely.
Unfortunately, it broke down slightly in the latter stages as the Irishmen wrestled control, but they can be pleased with the direction they are heading going into the World Cup. On this evidence, England better beware of another Pacific Island side when the global tournament comes around – their pool has all of a sudden become a lot harder.
Brutal for Cian Healy
It was galling to see Ireland’s great loosehead limp off in the first half with a lower leg injury. We will of course find out the severity of the problem in due course, but it did not look good for the prop, especially with the World Cup starting in just two weeks time.
Healy has been a great servant for the country and this could well be his international swansong, given that he is now 35. The Leinsterman continues to do a fine job for Farrell’s men and was holding up his end of the scrum very well in the opening quarter of this match.
In fact, his departure, which signalled the arrival of Jeremy Loughman, resulted in a change of fortunes in the set-piece as the Samoans proceeded to dominate. With Dave Kilcoyne also in his mid-30s and Loughman struggling in Bayonne, they are a bit light on loosehead cover for Andrew Porter.
Not what anyone wanted to see tonight. pic.twitter.com/xMTugPIA3s
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) August 26, 2023
We’ve touched on Samoa’s physicality up front, as well as the cohesion of the team in general, and that rather leads onto their scrum and lineout. Granted, both areas of the game broke down late on and that will need to be rectified over the next couple of weeks, but it was at times dominant against Ireland.
They stole several Irish throws and were in the ascendency in the scrum for around 40 minutes, before the replacements came on and the encounter changed. With Chris Vui, Theo McFarland and Taleni Seu in the back five of the pack, they have excellent jumping options, while in the front-row Paul Alo-Emile and James Lay were hugely impressive.
With that platform, they are going to cause their Pool D opponents all sorts of problems. Argentina’s set-piece issues have been well known while England are still nowhere near the level they need to be at, especially considering how much work the coaches put into it. Samoa should therefore have the confidence to at least reach the World Cup quarter-finals in France.
Playing for World Cup places
Plenty of Ireland players, who may well be on the fringes of the squad, did not do themselves any favours. Farrell will name his squad on Sunday, having brought it forward by a day, and it will be fascinating to see what the head coach has decided.
Tom Stewart has probably played himself out of contention after a difficult first half which saw Samoa steal a number of lineouts. Providing Ronan Kelleher and Dan Sheehan are deemed fit, it will surely be them plus Rob Herring, who excelled off the bench in Bayonne, who make the final 33.
Elsewhere, Stuart McCloskey did not impact the game as he would have liked, even if the centre wasn’t helped by the conditions, and the same could be said of Jacob Stockdale. Ryan Baird is another who is thought to be on the edge, and he struggled at times against Samoa, but his performances in the Six Nations, versatility and point of difference – he is an incredible athlete – goes in his favour.