Ireland’s third Pool A match takes on heightened significance this Thursday, after they slumped to a shock defeat to Japan last weekend. That result now means that finishing top of the Pool is no longer in their own hands. If Japan win their remaining fixtures, they are guaranteed first place which will likely mean avoiding New Zealand in the Quarter finals.
Ireland’s focus must now be on avoiding any more slip ups, in an attempt to avoid the unthinkable prospect of elimination before the knock-out rounds.
That task begins against Russia, who are widely considered one of the weakest teams in this years competition. The have already been on the receiving end of heavy defeats to Japan and Samoa, scoring only one try in the process. The sides have met twice in the past with Ireland winning convincingly on both occasions. They know only a comprehensive, bonus point victory will be acceptable here.
Joe Schmidt makes 11 changes to the side that faced Japan, with Johnny Sexton, who will captain the team, returning to fly half. He will partner Leinster team-mate Luke McGrath who comes in at scrum half. Jordi Murphy makes his tournament debut at Number 8 after being drafted in from the reserve list this week. Ringrose partners Aki in midfield, while the back three is made up of Earls, Conway and Kearney.
Ireland will have far too much quality for Russia in this encounter, but what is more important is the manner in which they win. Body language will be telling in regards to how the group are feeling as they build towards a difficult quarter final.