YOKOHAMA, Japan, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Ireland came to the World Cup with their deepest ever squad and coach Joe Schmidt was pleased with how his already stretched panel cruised through Sunday’s opening 27-3 victory over main Pool A rivals Scotland.
Centre Robbie Henshaw was ruled out for much of the pool stage at least with an injury this week, and Ireland had to mine the depth of their playing resources even further after fellow backs Keith Earls, Rob Kearney and Joey Carbery ran out of time to prove their fitness for Yokohama.
When flanker Peter O’Mahony and centre Bundee Aki left with head injuries early on during Sunday’s encounter, Chris Farrell and Jack Conan were called upon sooner than expected. Conan topped the tackle count for an Irish side that missed just eight all game and Farrell made more metres than anyone on the team bar fullback Jordan Larmour.
“I was delighted with all 23... it was very much a collective performance,” Schmidt told a news conference.
“I think one of the things that sometimes happens is you build a lead and then you lose a bit of cohesion when guys start filtering in and out. I didn’t really detect that that happened.”
While Schmidt said O’Mahony and Aki were symptom-free, the six-day turnaround for a head injury assessment may scupper their chances of facing Japan on Saturday.
Earls, Kearney and Carbery should all be in contention though, the New Zealander said, adding that first-choice flyhalf Johnny Sexton was fine despite relinquishing kicking duties in the first half.
With Ireland now heavy favourites to top Pool A, the coming four weeks will represent a very different path to four years ago when their pool decider against France ended with a series of injuries that proved decisive in the quarter-finals.
Sunday’s victory has put them on course for a likely last-eight tussle with South Africa, whom Schmidt insisted are a weight category ahead of his “light heavyweights” after watching the Springboks’ defeat to New Zealand on Saturday.
“I thought it was a heavyweight contest last night. We might be light heavyweight or middleweight, I don’t know. It was a super game,” Schmidt said.
“South Africa were bristling. It’s a very different situation from last time in the World Cup when we were trying to build our way through the pool knowing France was going to be a real mountain to climb.”
“We may be able to manage the squad, you might think, but I know that Japan are a dangerous team so we’ve just got to take it step by step. We won’t be talking too much about South Africa.”
Additional reporting by Jack Tarrant; editing by Tony Lawrence