Subscriber OnlyRugby World CupFive Things We Learned

Five things we learned from the weekend’s World Cup warm-ups

From Caelan Doris’s barnstorming runs to South Africa’s ominous quality and the growing threat from Fiji and Samoa

Caelan Doris is best at number eight

Irish coach Andy Farrell has been moving his backline around to see which players fit best and where. Caelan Doris has been moved out of the number eight position several times for Farrell to see just what his options are in the event of players such as Josh van der Flier, Peter O’Mahony and Doris getting injured or suspended. But again, Doris showed what an influential player he is for this Irish team at number eight. Despite the conditions, he made the most metres (59) with the ball and had the most carries (12) for Ireland. More and more number eight has become the position in which Doris is most effective for this Irish team, which is especially important now that Jack Conan has a foot injury. At number eight, Doris appears to get hands on the ball more often and when he does he is offered better platforms to go on his trademark barnstorming runs.

Better preparation benefits Pacific Islanders

Both Fiji and Samoa stepped up at the weekend after being able to spend precious time together, something that in past years was a challenge for the teams, who have players all over the world. Having something close to the preparation time that tier-one sides are regularly afforded has shown what can be achieved. The Fijians astonished England, and then Samoa almost followed suit against the world number one side, undone by inaccuracies at the end in an attacking lineout. Fiji won the gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 for the first time and have shown what they can do in the shorter version of the game, while Seilala Mapusua’s Samoan team were excellent in Bayonne on Saturday with Ireland lucky to win. Mapusua, who played with Irish attack coach Mike Catt at London Irish, has done an eye-catching coaching job. Move over: the Pacific Islanders are here.

Pool looks even more dangerous for Ireland

England’s excruciating home defeat by Fiji has left their fans asking whether they are even going to be able to get out of pool D, where Argentina and Samoa eagerly await their shot at an apparently struggling team. Meanwhile, Ireland’s pool rivals South Africa set the world ablaze with a record 35-7 demolition of New Zealand at Twickenham. Instead of replacing late injury Willie Le Roux with another back, Jacques Nienaber decided to call in loose forward Kwagga Smith. That meant the Springboks, for the first time, went into a Test match with a 7-1 split bench, with just one back replacement. They monstered a 14-man New Zealand. That came on the back of hammering Wales 52-16 in Cardiff the previous weekend. The pool game against Scotland has become even bigger for Ireland.

Injuries provides opportunities

Jimmy O’Brien went off with a shoulder injury, Jacob Stockdale was also hauled ashore but it was the look in Cian Healy’s face that caused most concern. Warm up games are always fraught with injury possibilities but whatever Healy did to his calf or Achilles that necessitated him being carried from the field by two of the Irish medical team was not a good look. It has been a feature of this warm-up series and is by no means a new phenomenon. England’s Anthony Watson and Jack Poorvliet, and French outhalf Romain Ntamack have also picked up injuries. But with disappointment comes opportunity. Rob Herring scored a try as injured hookers Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher sat it out. In 2011 the All Blacks lost Dan Carter (groin), Colin Slade (groin) and Aaron Cruden (knee) so they called on Stephen Donald. Stephen who? The guy who kicked the points to win the World Cup.

Scotland undaunted by South African challenge

Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie is wary of South Africa’s power following their victory over New Zealand. But on a positive note (and cliche alert), he described that result as a “great learning” for his team. Ritchie said that the Scotland players watched the match together in their hotel and learned something from having seen how the world champions go about their business. The Springboks and Scotland are set to meet in their opening match in Marseilles on September 10th. The outcome will have a huge bearing on the pool dynamics. Ireland are due to meet Scotland in the last pool game in Paris, having played against the Springboks in the previous match, which also takes place in Stade de France in St Denis. Gregor Townsend and his team head to France with three home victories – all after trailing at half-time – and a narrow loss away to France.