Joe Schmidt believes Ireland have made the right call by opting not to risk Robbie Henshaw and instead hand Garry Ringrose a third consecutive start at the Rugby World Cup.
Ringrose is one of just four Ireland players to keep his place following the shock defeat to Japan as they prepare to take on Russia on Thursday.
Johnny Sexton returns having been kept out of the last game as a precaution, lining up as captain for the first time, but Henshaw is still yet to feature at the tournament.
Henshaw suffered a hamstring injury in training before the opener against Scotland, yet Ireland have not sent him home and are giving the centre extra time to recover.
Ringrose is starting again against Russia and Schmidt is happy with the pairing with Bundee Aki, who is back after he failed a head injury assessment before the Japan game.
“It’s a risk [to play Ringrose again] but he’s feeling great,” the coach told reporters. “He’s playing super.
“I thought Garry was really good last weekend – he was one of the guys who didn’t really miss a bit. He was still working really hard, he was still creating opportunities.
“It was difficult. He moved into 12, we had Jordan Larmour at 13, who’s really a back three player for us, we had Luke McGrath on the wing, and we were chasing a game. It’s a tough situation to be in.
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“With Garry, Robbie is on the cusp of being available. If we put him back in this week – which we thought about – it’s a risk we feel we don’t need to take because Garry’s feeling good.
“We can put Robbie in, maybe, next week. And at the same time, we’ve got Bundee back and he’s got a bit of bounce about him.”
Ireland will be expected to collect an additional bonus point against Russia, recovering some momentum, but Schmidt is more concerned by the performance.
“We have to study around our performance-orientated goals,” he said. “For us, if we don’t focus on those, we can’t actually put anything on the scoreboard.
“We need to put things in place to build the pressure or create the opportunities.
“I felt the first 20 minutes last weekend were very good. We got in the right field position, turned a few balls over, which was frustrating, but at the same time got the two tries.
“We perhaps didn’t get back up to that and play with the same front-foot attitude – and you can’t really afford to do that against good opposition.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ireland – Johnny Sexton
Conor Murray ran the show against Scotland while Sexton battled a thigh injury, which then kept Ireland’s star man out of the defeat to Japan. In their third match, Schmidt’s men need the World Rugby Player of the Year to finally turn up at the World Cup party. Starting as captain, he will be expected to tear Russia apart.
Russia – Denis Simplikevich
The winger sat out the first two matches of the 2011 World Cup and made a try-scoring impact as a 20-year-old debutant in a 62-12 loss to Ireland. He followed that up by crossing against Australia in their next outing and Russia will be hoping he can have a similar impact in Japan.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Ireland and Russia have met twice previously in international rugby, in 2002 and then again in 2011. Ireland won both matches by margins of 32 points and 50 points respectively.
– The 62-12 Irish victory over Russia at the 2011 Rugby World Cup remains their second biggest win at the tournament, surpassed only by a 64-7 triumph over Namibia in 2003.
– After losing to Japan, Ireland are out to avoid back-to-back defeats in the competition for the first time since their last two pool games of the 2007 edition.
– Ireland’s 19-12 loss to Japan snapped a 44-game unbeaten streak against non-Tier 1 opposition in international rugby, going back to a defeat to Samoa in 1996.
– Russia remain on the hunt for their maiden World Cup victory, with this being their seventh game at the tournament. Only Namibia (21) have played more World Cup games and not won.
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