Ireland's hopes of topping group still possible

Ireland wave to their fans following their Rugby World Cup Pool A game at Kobe Misaki Stadium against Russia in Kobe, Japan, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.Ireland defeated Russia 35-0. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Ireland's Iain Henderson, right, and Japan's Luke Thompson, left, vie for a lineout during the Rugby World Cup Pool A game at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa between Japan and Ireland in Shizuoka, Japan, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Players bow to the crowd after the Rugby World Cup Pool A game at City of Toyota Stadium between Japan and Samoa in Tokyo City, Japan, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Japan defeated Samoa 38-19.(AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
Japan's Kotaro Matsushima dives to score a try as he is tackled during the Rugby World Cup Pool A game at City of Toyota Stadium between Japan and Samoa in Tokyo City, Japan, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Japan defeated Samoa 38-19.(AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

FUKUOKA, Japan — Ireland still gets a chance to finish top of its Rugby World Cup group after avoiding a typhoon — for now.

The Irish are jostling with Japan for top spot in Pool A, having lost to the host, and need to beat Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday while hoping the Scots win against the Japanese on Sunday.

The anticipated impact of Typhoon Hagibis hitting Japan has forced the cancellation of two matches scheduled for Saturday on safety grounds — the Pool C decider between England and France at Yokohama, near Tokyo, and the Pool B game between New Zealand and Italy in Toyota.

It's the first time that games have been canceled at rugby's showpiece tournament, and while Ireland vs. Samoa is still going ahead it could yet be called off. So could the Japan-Scotland game in Yokohama.

Fukuoka is situated on the north shore of Kyushu Island and, according to weather experts, was initially the most threatened by the typhoon. All games canceled because of weather are logged as scoreless draws and each team will get two competition points.

Such a scenario would leave Japan top with 14 points and three ahead of Ireland, which is three points behind and would qualify in second place ahead of third-place Scotland (10 points).

Still, Ireland would much prefer to play, if for no other reason than to shake off some rustiness.

Joe Schmidt's Ireland lineup routed Scotland 27-3 and Russia 35-0, either side of an upset 19-12 loss to Japan.

"There are certain elements in our game against Russia that we'd like to think we could have done better," Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby said. "We feel we maybe haven't quite hit our (straps), probably since the Scotland game and maybe the first 20 minutes of the Japan game."

Easterby says the players are very keen to make amends, and there have been some "tasty" scrum sessions in training.

"You need those types of sessions and you need that competitive edge," he said. "I think this forward pack has that."

Samoa lost 38-19 to Samoa last Saturday, but competed strongly against Japan for long spells.

Ireland lock Iain Henderson expects Samoa to come out aggressively from the outset.

"They're going to be ultra-excited to get the ball in their hand, they're going to be looking to do as much damage to us as possible," he said. "If you look at the way Japan started against us, I think that's a good indication of what Samoa are going to try and do."

Head coach Steve Jackson's Samoa side dealt confidently with Russia, winning 34-9 in a bruising encounter, then lost 34-0 to Scotland.

While Samoa was poor against Scotland, the players left the field with regrets after the Japan game.

"We know that we could have done more. That's something that we've got to take on the chin but we're always going to go all guns blazing this weekend against Ireland," backrower Josh Tyrell said. "The Japanese did something amazing (against Ireland) and we're hoping to follow their footsteps. Ireland is a well-organized machine that keeps going and going and never stops. So we are hoping to get in there and tweak up the machine and smash it."

The New-Zealand born Tyrell will be especially motivated when he comes up against Ireland center Bundee Aki, who went to New Zealand's Manurewa High School.

"I played against Aki back in school," Tyrell said. "I looked up to him when he was at (New Zealand-based club side) the Chiefs and I'm hoping to get in his face this weekend."

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More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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