FUKUOKA, 11 Oct – A preview of the Pool A match between Ireland and Samoa, which kicks off at 19:45 on Saturday at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium.
The Big Picture
Ireland have tried hard to detach themselves from the uncertainty caused by Typhoon Hagibis, especially when it became clear early in the week that the Kyushu region, where their match will take place, is likely to be spared. For them, the task is clear: a bonus-point victory will guarantee them a place in the quarter-finals.
Regardless of whether or not the Japan v Scotland game goes ahead on Sunday, Ireland will not have to wait long to find out if their opponents will be South Africa or New Zealand – should they deal with the Samoan challenge.
After starting the tournament so brightly against Scotland, Joe Schmidt's team have veered off course, with sub-par performances against Japan and Russia. Their captain Rory Best has been honest enough to concede that confidence was hit by the defeat by Japan and a simple five-point return in Fukuoka will not be sufficient to restore it – that will require a performance of accuracy and authority.
Ireland's starting XV is not far off full-strength and while they have concerns about the playing surface at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, which was relaid as recently as 4 October, coach Schmidt will be fervently hoping that a longer preparation period for this game will help his players rediscover their spark and put down a marker for the quarter-finals.
Samoa cannot qualify for the last eight but are intent on doing everything they can to leave the tournament with one of the country's biggest wins. "Knowing that we're on an airplane on Monday, going home - to have a scalp like that would be great," Samoa coach Vaeluaga Steve Jackson said.
The stakes are also high for several Samoa players who sacrificed club contracts to play at the World Cup. How they emerge from the tournament could have a big bearing on what happens next for them.
"We could have a performance of a lifetime and then land that awesome deal. Or it could go the opposite and we'd just be at home working in the rigs," second-row Filo Paulo said.
Ireland's expectation is that Samoa will front-up in a very physical way and there seems little prospect that Schmidt's team will give the underdogs anything other than respect.
Form guide (most recent matches first)
Played 6 – Ireland 5W – Samoa 1W – Drawn 0
In the spotlight
Ireland winger Keith Earls has scored 30 tries in his 80 appearances, including eight in the Rugby World Cup – the most by any Irish player. Despite being one of his country's sharpest players in Japan, he has yet to score at this tournament – and the same goes for the prolific Jacob Stockdale (16 tries in 23 appearances), who starts on the other wing against the Samoans.
Both men will be keen to put that right. Earls said on Friday that there has been some banter between them this week – although no wager – on who will be the first to cross the try-line.
Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw plays for the first time at RWC 2019, partnering Bundee Aki, with the in-form Garry Ringrose rested after playing all 240 minutes in the first three games.
Henshaw's inclusion is one of 11 changes made by Schmidt from the starting XV who beat Russia 35-0. Full-back Rob Kearney misses out after being managed in training this week and is replaced by Jordan Larmour.
By contrast Jackson has made just two changes to his Samoa team from the side beaten 38-19 by Japan. Loose-head prop Logovii Mulipola and second-row Filo Paulo return, replacing Jordan Lay and Piula Faasalele, who drop to the bench.
Stats and Trivia
Ireland have won the past four encounters between the sides by an average margin of 24 points. The last time they played was at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, in 2013 when Ireland won 40-9.
All of Samoa's jersey numbers, except No.1 (loose-head prop), have scored at least one RWC try.
Rory Best captains Ireland for the 37th time, overtaking Keith Wood and moving into second place behind Brian O'Driscoll (83).
This is the first time that the two sides have met at the RWC.
"For us it's just business as usual. We can't control what happens with the Japan-Scotland game, so on Saturday it's up to us to get our business done as best we can." – Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.
"This is probably one of the biggest games that we could play and win, being ranked where we are (14th) and they are in the top five in the world. It's going to be massive." – Samoa coach Vaeluaga Steve Jackson.