Sunday 24 September 2017

Joe Schmidt backs new-look Ireland against Japan despite difficult build-up

Joe Schmidt's Ireland take on Japan in Tokyo on Saturday
Joe Schmidt's Ireland take on Japan in Tokyo on Saturday

Ireland's preparations for Saturday's opening Test against Japan have not been ideal, but head coach Joe Schmidt has backed his new-look side to rise to the challenge.

Having landed in Tokyo on Monday after a 20-hour flight from New York, Schmidt's men have had to adapt to a new time zone as well as hot and humid conditions.

Schmidt has made six changes to the side which thrashed the US Eagles 55-19 in New Jersey with Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway, Rory Scannell, Paddy Jackson, Luke McGrath and Dan Leavy all coming into the startling line-up.

"Preparations have been brief, pretty brief," said Schmidt.

"The work rate in training today was really good because I think the players are very conscious that it is the only training we will get this week, so they wanted to make sure that they got as much clarity and got a bit of rhythm as best they could.

"It wasn't perfect, and it seldom is, but I think we will learn from it and hopefully we will be a little more cohesive by the time we kick off on Saturday.

"Trying to acclimatise has been very difficult. We did have the advantage of playing in very hot temperatures in New Jersey last weekend but by the time we left the hotel on Sunday morning and by the time we arrived here it was Monday night.

"You are very jumbled from the different time zones and so that has taken a toll but it certainly won't be considered anything other than an imposition in the early part of the week and by the end of the week we have to make sure we are ready to go."

Having handed five players their first caps in New Jersey, Schmidt has decided to shake things up again ahead of Saturday's clash at Ecopa Stadium in Shizuoka.

Conway, Scannell and McGrath will all make their first Test starts in an Ireland shirt with Munster star Zebo starting at full-back having been named among the replacements last Saturday.

There is one change to the pack with powerful Leinster flanker Leavy replacing provincial team-mate Josh van der Flier at openside.

Ulster fly-half Jackson did not travel with the squad for their US leg of the summer tour and remained in Ireland for personal reasons but linked up with them in Tokyo on Monday.

Jackson will slot straight in at number 10 after Leinster's Joey Carbery returned home having suffered an ankle injury in the 50th minute of Ireland's victory in the States.

The rookie trio of tighthead Andrew Porter, lock James Ryan and winger Jacob Stockdale, who scored a try on debut, all drop out of the matchday 23 with Leinster hooker James Tracy, Connacht prop Finlay Bealham and Munster flanker Jack O'Donoghue drafted into the reserves.

Ulster lock Kieran Treadwell and Leinster utility back Rory O'Loughlin are poised to win their first caps having been named on the bench as well.

Without 11 frontline players on Lions duty and minus the services of injured Test veterans such as Rob Kearney, Jamie Heaslip and Sean Cronin, Schmidt has been afforded the opportunity to broaden the base of talent ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

"I think we have some injured guys at home who might otherwise have been with us," he added.

"They would have added a bit of guidance and experience, some of them have played here before, but I think it is a great opportunity to learn who can adapt and who can adapt the fastest because some of these players are being thrown in the deep end and I have to say the coaching staff are looking forward to seeing how they go.

"They have worked hard away from the pitch to make sure they get themselves as organised as possible and hopefully that is apparent on Saturday."

Meanwhile, Japan head coach Jamie Joseph has named his 23-man squad to take on Ireland.

Veteran Waikato Chiefs flanker Michael Leitch captains the side in a powerful backrow containing Melbourne Rebels number eight Amanaki Mafi and promising Sunwolves openside Yoshitaka Tokunaga.

The Brave Blossoms will be without Harumichi Tatekawa, Akihito Yamada, Yu Chinen and 98-cap veteran Hitoshi Ono, who all withdrew from the squad due to injury.

Centre William Tupou will win his first cap in midfield alongside Timothy Lafaele in midfield while fly-half Yu Tamura will link up with Sunwolves star Fumiaki Tanaka at half-back.

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