How The 2019 Rugby World Cup Schedule Affects Ireland
Crying over Argentina.
The Irish plan in 2015 was to win the group with France and then trot through the quarter against Argentina. Rugby World Cups are incredibly predictable compared to other sports events – two groups are paired together for the quarters. So Ireland was pretty sure before the campaign started that the winner of their group would play Argentina and the runner up would play New Zealand.
Each top tier team usually has one big group game against another top tier team. A major factor working against Ireland was that they had their big game a lot later than Argentina and New Zealand. In fact, Argentina and New Zealand played each other a good six weeks before playing their quarters. While Ireland’s big game against France happened only a week before their quarter-final.
So it’s now assumed by non Argentinians that if Ireland played its ferocious injury filled game against France earlier, and had longer to recover, then Ireland would have progressed into the semi-final.
But a word of caution on this. If the same game against France was instead played at the start of the tournament Paul O’Connell could still have suffered his career ending injury, Peter O’Mahony could still have picked up that knee injury and Sexton could have still limped off. Though maybe Sean O’Brien’s one match ban would have made him available for the quarter, there’s no guarantee it wouldn’t instead have been a longer ban.
2019 – Getting ahead of ourselves
Ireland V Scotland , Sept 22
Japan V Ireland, Sept 28
Japan V Scotland, 13 Oct
QF on 19 or 20 October.
In 2019 these are the important fixtures in Ireland’s group. The toughest game will probably be against Scotland a month before the quarter-final, so avoiding the same recovery problem as 2015. Though the potential banana skin of Japan will come along quickly after that, with only a six day turnaround. On present form the Scotland/Ireland game should be close, but it shouldn’t be the war of attrition it was against France and the injury toll shouldn’t end the ambitions of either team.
The Oct 13th game between Japan and Scotland could be the most significant. It’s unlikely that Ireland will lose to both Japan and Scotland, making this encounter a do or die match for one or both teams. So though Scotland would be expected to win, it’s how much effort it takes that really matters. Because their quarter-final will then be against either South Africa or New Zealand a week later.
New Zealand V South Africa, 21 September
South Africa V Italy, 4 Oct.
The progress of either side here will likely have nothing to do with timing. They will either have their preparation done or they won’t. Though it is worth noting that South Africa’s toughest group game in 2015, against Japan, happened a month before they faced Wales in the quarter, who themselves had faced Australia just a week before. So the scheduling was potentially very important for the Springboks then. But even if Italy give them a fright in 2019, they will have over two weeks to recover before the quarters.
The task will never be easy
The countdown to the World Cup is slowly starting for Ireland. The excuse of timing is gone. So there just remains the small issue of actually making the semi-final. Beating Scotland and Japan will likely mean a quarter-final with South Africa, lose to either Scotland or Japan means a quarter against New Zealand. Neither route sounds appealing, but the hope is there will be a stronger squad to face the challenge of the quarter than there was in 2015.