The expected and necessary Ireland XV changes for Japan
Tadhg Furlong, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray are all "fine" but there are genuine concerns over Bundee Aki and Peter O'Mahony.
Ireland knew they had to hurl the whole kitchen suite at the Scots, in their World Cup opener, and they certainly did that. Gregor Townsend's side were completely blitzed by a revved up Ireland side but victory did come at a cost.
Bundee Aki and Peter O'Mahony were both off the pitch before 30 minutes had passed and neither returned after their Head Injury Assessments. Johnny Sexton appeared to be suffering from a groin issue and ceded the kicking duties to Conor Murray mid-way through the first half.
Joe Schmidt withdrew Murray and Sexton from the fray as soon as Andrew Conway crossed to score the fourth, and bonus point, Irish try. Tadhg Furlong was also brought off, with Cian Healy, after 54 minutes not long after receiving treatment out on the pitch.
Following Ireland's 27-3 crushing of Scotland, Schmidt said Aki and O'Mahony were 'symptom-free' of concussion but they will be monitored closely over the coming days. There is a six-day window, after not returning from HIAs, as part of the return to play protocols and any set-back would rule them out of next Saturday's game against Japan.
Schmidt will not rule out either man but it may be a risk to include them in his starting XV plans if any sign of concussion, over the next six days, would see them ruled out. On withdrawing several senior stars from the fray, the Ireland coach told RTE:
"The lads got us through the first 15 minutes of the second half and then I felt that we were probably far enough in front close enough to that last quarter that we could bring them off and get them ready for a six-day turnaround, which is going to be tight with Japan having an eight-day turnaround."
Asked if the loss of Aki, allied with concerns over Robbie Henshaw's fitness, left the Irish midfield and back row stretched, Schmidt replied, "Potentially, less so Pete because we’ve got Rhys Ruddock to come back into the mix."
Japan are just behind Ireland in Pool A on points difference, at present. Schmidt's men will all but seal top spot with a victory over the tournament hosts next Saturday. With that in mind, Schmidt will seek to go into the game with as man as today's starting XV as possible while keeping some real punch for the bench.
Here is how we expected them to line up:
Our Ireland team to face Japan
1. Cian Healy (Leinster)
2. Rory Best (Ulster)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)
4. Iain Henderson (Ulster)
5. James Ryan (Leinster)
6. CJ Stander (Munster)
7. Josh van der Flier (Leinster)
8. Jack Conan (Leinster)
9. Conor Murray (Munster)
10. Johnny Sexton (Leinster)
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ulster)
12. Chris Farrell (Munster)
13. Garry Ringrose (Leinster)
14. Andrew Conway (Munster)
15. Rob Kearney (Leinster)
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Jack Carty, Jordan Larmour.
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