It is a game Ireland dare not lose and one in a sense they cannot 'win' when they try to revive their Rugby World Cup campaign against Russia tomorrow (03).
Ireland's hopes of being crowned world champions for the first time suffered a setback with a 19-12 defeat by Japan last time out.
But despite that loss, bonus-point wins over both Russia and Samoa in their final two group matches will see Ireland through to the quarter-finals after they started Pool 'A' with a convincing 27-3 victory over old rivals Scotland.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has made 11 changes in personnel after a five-day turnaround, with fly-half Jonathan Sexton returning to the side after missing the Japan loss with a thigh injury.
Sexton, who will captain Ireland for the first time in his illustrious career, reckons the Japan defeat may have been a “blessing in disguise” because it came in the pool phase rather than in the knockout stages where there is no chance of recovery.
“He always demands such high standards of himself. That just sets the tone for everyone around him,” Ireland back-row Rhys Ruddock, who plays in a Leinster side skippered by Sexton, told reporters at the Kobe Misaki Stadium on Wednesday.
Ireland should have more than enough in their locker to see off a Russia side ranked 20th in the world, having won their only previous World Cup meeting 62-12 eight years ago.
And Schmidt was confident Ireland could bounce back to secure a quarter-final place that will likely pit them against either reigning world champions New Zealand or South Africa. “I'm still incredibly positive about this group,” the New Zealander said.
“They are such a good group of young men that they are determined to make sure we get it right in these next two games. Then beyond that, it doesn't matter which team you play in the pool next door to us, it is a monumental game,” Schmidt added.
The hot and humid conditions under the closed roof of the Kobe Misaki Stadium, have made ball-handling difficult and that could be an issue as Ireland go in search of the four tries they need for a bonus point.
“We know the stats from the last two games that have been played here, 30 handling errors in one and 35 in the other so it's being able to adapt to that,” said Ireland assistant coach Andy Farrell, whose son Owen played for England against the United States in an earlier World Cup match at the ground.
“How do we adapt? We make sure there is a no-excuse mentality.
Farrell insisted complacency would not be an issue, adding: “We look back to our last result and that's enough. It doesn't matter whether it's New Zealand or Russia, it's about getting back up on the horse.” Russia coach Lyn Jones has made nine changes to a side that conceded six tries in a 34-9 defeat by Samoa. That reverse came just four days after they had posed Japan problems in a 30-10 opening defeat by the World Cup hosts.
The Welshman has six new faces in the pack, as Russia aim to take Ireland on up front.
Jones, however, was under no illusions about the scale of the task confronting his side, which will be captained by fullback Vasily Artemyev, educated at Dublin's Blackrock College -- the school attended by Ireland great Brian O'Driscoll -- and University College, Dublin.
“We are facing probably the toughest challenge that Russian rugby has ever faced. We take on one of the best teams in the world, Ireland.
“The challenge for us is to make sure that we make life as difficult for Ireland and to score as many tries as we can,” Jones added.
Thursday's match will witness a family reunion, with Russia forwards coach Mark McDermott the uncle of Ireland wing Andrew Conway.-AFP
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