Ireland aim to seal record 13th consecutive win in final World Cup warm-up against Samoa

Triumph in Bayonne on Saturday evening would see Ireland go into the World Cup with 25 victories in their past 27 Tests

World Cup warm-up: Ireland v Samoa, Parc des Sports Jean Dauger, Bayonne; Saturday, 8.45pm local time, 7.45pm Irish (Live on RTÉ 2)

The decision by the Irish management to bring forward the announcement of their squad for the World Cup to Sunday afternoon at 4.30pm is a further indication that, barring any unforeseen last-minute hitches, the 33 names have been pretty much inked in.

With that in mind, these warm-up games are an occupational, if necessary, hazard, but aside from the hope that everyone comes through unscathed, Ireland will be looking to take their performance level up another notch against Samoa in Bayonne this evening.

They have won their last seven games by at least 13 points and, maintaining momentum, after the highs of the series win in New Zealand last year and this year’s Grand Slam, could see them go into the World Cup with 25 victories in their past 27 Tests.

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There’s also an Irish record of 13 in succession should they win this evening, eclipsing the dozen in a row between March 2017 and March 2018.

Iain Henderson, captaining Ireland for the third time and set to compete in his third World Cup, admitted that they are seeking their best performance of the three warm-up games.

“That’s something we’ve talked about. We’ve talked about continuing to get better going into the World Cup. We don’t want this to be a stumbling block tomorrow or for us to get past it.

“We also know the threats that Samoa pose. They’re a different animal to the last time we played them. They have unbelievable coaches, the players they’ve got on board are top-class international-quality players who are playing throughout all competitions around the world, and I feel it’s going to be hugely difficult for us at times in the game.

“But if we play the way we want to play and we get our game plan flowing the way we want, it will suit us and it will be good for us.”

This looks like something of a dry run for Ireland’s second pool game against Tonga, with perhaps even a similar Irish line-up. Alas, it appears as if there’ll be some rain about this evening in Bayonne, and possibly even quite an amount too.

After the past week’s hot weather, that would be a shame, for a wet ball will probably mean more stoppages, more scrums and more line-outs, with less rucks and less ball in time play.

Against that, Andy Farrell wouldn’t be averse to seeing how his players cope with adverse conditions, not least as it can rain plenty even in warm autumnal French evenings.

This is arguably Samoa’s strongest team since their 40-25 win over Ireland in the first game under floodlights at the old Lansdowne Road in 1996, after reaching the 1991 and ‘95 World Cup quarter-finals.

“Little short of humiliating” as The Irish Times put it, and it remains Samoa’s sole win in seven official Tests between the two countries.

Their coaches have made little secret of their stated ambition to qualify for the knockout stages for the first time in seven World Cups. They play Chile, Argentina, Japan – whom they beat 24-22 last July in Sapporo albeit after Michael Leitch’s 30th-minute red card – and England in that order.

They are likely to be more competitive than was the case in Ireland’s 47-5 in Fukuoka four years ago. Samoa were playing their fourth pool game in 19 days and the fizz had gone from their rugby.

The value of this game for Samoa is significant, for, as head coach Seilala Mapasua highlighted yesterday, it is only their second Test against a Tier 1 country since then.

He good-naturedly described Ireland as “Leinster on steroids”, and they have a good insight into the province given attack coach Andrew Goodman, video analyst Brian Colclough and tight-head Michael Ala’alatoa.

Samoa’s team features two of their three former All Blacks who have switched their allegiance through lineage. They are the 32-year-old ex-Wasps and Lyon outhalf Lima Sopoaga (who won 16 caps for New Zealand and will be making his injury-delayed debut for the Pacific Islanders) and Bristol flanker Steven Luatua.

They also have six players who ply their trade in the Top 14. These include Duncan Paia’aua, normally a quick-footed, creative centre for Toulon who is being tried at fullback, and the brilliant Australian-born centre UJ Seuteni, a try scorer in La Rochelle’s 27-26 win over Leinster in the Champions Cup final last May.

Goodman has been with the Samoans on-off since 2021 and after the last two months with the squad, will return immediately to Leinster after the World Cup. It’s certainly been a relief to be coaching Seuteni.

“Yeah, when we first came into camp for 5½ weeks in Samoa it brought back some unhappy memories,” Goodman recalled yesterday, whose young family are with him in this week in the southwest of France. “When I introduced him to my wife I said: ‘This is the fellah who put me in a bad mood for three months!”

Samoa also have left some heavy-hitters on their bench, including Ala’alatoa, a co-captain with Bristol lock Chris Vui, and the 35-year-old ex-Ulster utility back Christian Leali’ifano, who won 26 caps for the Wallabies, but makes way for Sopoaga to make his debut.

Given Samoa’s approach and X factor, as well as physicality, Ireland’s defence might well be more stressed in this game than was the case against Italy or England. But their greater fitness and cohesion should also tell.

Ireland: Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster); Mack Hansen (Connacht), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), Keith Earls (Munster); Jack Crowley (Munster), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Tom Stewart (Ulster), Finlay Bealham (Connacht), Iain Henderson (Ulster, capt), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Ryan Baird (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster). Replacements: Rob Herring (Ulster), Jeremy Loughman (Munster), Tom O’Toole (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Craig Casey (Munster), Ross Byrne (Leinster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster).

Samoa: Duncan Paia’aua (Toulon); Ed Fidow (Rugby New York Ironworkers), UJ Seuteni (La Rochelle), Tumua Manu (Pau), Nigel Ah wong (Moana Pasifika); Lima Sopoaga (Shimizu Blue Sharks), Jonathan Taumateine (Moana Pasifika); James Lay (Blues), Seilala Lam (Perpignan), Paul Alo-Emile (Stade Français), Chris Vui (Bristol Bears, co-capt), Theo McFarland (Saracens), Taleni Seu (Toyota Shuttles), Fritz Lee (Clermont), Steven Luatua (Bristol Bears). Replacements: Sama Malolo (San Diego Legion), Jordan Lay (Blues), Michael Alaalatoa (Leinster), Miracle Fai’ilagi (Moana Pasifika), Jordan Taufua (Lyon), Ereatara Enari (Moana Pasifika), Christian Leali’ifano (Moana Pasifika), Neria Foma’i (Moana Pasifika).

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times