Head coach Joe Schmidt speaks to players, from left, Rob Kearney, Jonathan Sexton, Jordi Murphy and Rhys Ruddock during Ireland Rugby captain's run today
A bonus-point victory will be Ireland’s minimum expectation against 100-1 underdogs Russia – they will also be hoping to produce a performance marked by the kind of accuracy and ambition that won plaudits when they beat Scotland in Yokohama. If they also can leave Kobe with no tour-threatening injuries, they’ll consider it a job well done. Ireland will then have the luxury of nine days to prepare for their final pool a game, against Samoa in Fukuoka.
Such is the challenge for Russia that fly-half Ramil Gaisin appeared a little starstruck when facing the media this week. With the hugely experienced Yury Kushnarev rested, 28-year-old Gaisin will find himself up against World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton, a prospect he is clearly relishing. Speaking shortly before Ireland named their team, Gaisin said: “I hope that the main Ireland players will appear, and being on the pitch with such star players will be a big thrill. I can't wait for it to happen.”
The shadow of Ireland’s shock defeat to Japan hangs over this fixture and the five-day turnaround from that game is in part responsible for the 11 changes coach Joe Schmidt has made to his starting team.
“We expect them to come hard,” Russia’s coach Lyn Jones said on Tuesday. With competition for places never more intense in the Ireland squad, Jones’s players are likely to be hit by an early onslaught, as Ireland seek to rack up points before humid conditions under a closed roof begin affecting energy levels.
Players who have already played in the sweltering Kobe Misaki Stadium have compared the ball to a bar of soap, especially in the second half. Unsurprisingly, there were 65 handling errors in the two games played there already (England v USA and Scotland v Samoa). Schmidt, assuredly, will have a game plan for the conditions. He will also be hoping that his players concede far fewer than the uncharacteristic nine penalties they were on the wrong end of against Japan.
With Russia’s margin of defeat in their opening two games averaging 31 points, the bookmakers’ analysts are expecting an Ireland victory by as much as 52 points. They got it badly wrong when assessing the Japan game, but Russia faded badly in the second half against Samoa after a four-day turnaround from their own fixture with Japan and it will be asking a lot for them to live with a wounded Ireland when bodies tire in the heat.
How they line up
Ireland: Kearney, Conway, Ringrose, Aki, Earls; Sexton, McGrath; Kilcoyne, Scannell, Ryan, Kleyn, Beirne; Ruddock, O'Mahony, Murphy. Replacements: Cronin, Porter, Furlong, Henderson, Stander, Carty, Carbery, Larmour.
Russia: Artemyev; Davydov, Galinovskiy, Golosnitskiy, Simplikevich; Gaisin, Perov; Polivalov, Matveev, Gotovtsev, Garbuzov, Fedotko; Sychev, Gadzhiev, Gresev. Replacements: Selskii, Morozov, Podrezov, Ostrikov, Elgin, Ianiushkin, Khodin, Ostroushkosday.