Tuesday 22 August 2017

Schmidt satisfied by test Japan provided

Japan 22 Ireland 50

Dave Kilcoyne on the charge for Ireland against Japan at the Shizuoka Epoca Stadium, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Dave Kilcoyne on the charge for Ireland against Japan at the Shizuoka Epoca Stadium, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The 20-minute walk from Aino train station up to the beautiful Ecopa Stadium in Shizuoka was lined with locals of all ages, decked out in red and white, handing out bits and bobs branded with World Cup 2019.

This is one of the venues for that tournament, as it was for the football World Cup in 2002. And, coincidentally, Japan and Ireland will be sharing pool space in two years' time. In brilliant sunshine, this was the perfect setting.

Dan Leavy, left, and Keith Earls of Ireland celebrate. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Dan Leavy, left, and Keith Earls of Ireland celebrate. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Instead, however, of the expected humidity forming a layer of moisture that would be hard to shake off, we got the wet blanket that was Japan's performance. Shortly before kick-off, the attendance was swelled by thousands of kids in their school uniforms filling the empty spaces in the stands. If they took to their phones for diversion, then they would have found the wi-fi signal as watery as their team's performance.

"I thought it was the best week of preparation we had had," coach Jamie Joseph lamented afterwards. "But to beat one of the best teams in the world, you have to execute well, apply yourselves, and you need to be desperate. And we were not desperate enough."

They will be now, for it promises to be a long week in Tokyo, where the coach needs a wholesale collapse from the tourists for his team to salvage something from the series.

Control

As for the other Joseph - well, Josef actually - it's all about housekeeping. There is a better chance of world peace than him losing tight control of the kids whose chores are top of their priority. A handful of them ran into trouble here in the execution of same, most noticeably Simon Zebo with a knee injury. So will his bed remain unmade?

Rhys Ruddock of Ireland is tackled by Hendrik Tui of Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Rhys Ruddock of Ireland is tackled by Hendrik Tui of Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"I don't think so," Schmidt said of Zebo skiving off. "I'd be surprised if he isn't available for the next Test. I know he's very keen to play. He was disappointed not to play more in the game. I honestly believe everyone will be pretty much right. The guys who came off were stitches or a poke in the eye."

The eye victim was Luke McGrath, whose defensive effort was first class. Watching it from the stands was the third scrum-half on the trip, Ulster-bound John Cooney, who is now in the uncomfortable position of being the only uncapped player in the squad. Not far behind him is Sean Reidy, the only capped man unused.

So already the trip has been useful in its balance between setting a high benchmark to be reached before being given a shirt, and spreading the net of those with Test time - on which they might build ahead of the World Cup.

And it has been a statistical storm: seven tries on Saturday adding to the nine in New Jersey. And for the irrepressible, and consistently accurate, Keith Earls (below with Leavy) a new record: his second touchdown on Saturday eased him past Denis Hickie's figure of eight international tries in a season. The downside is that the prime obstacle over the two games has been the atmospheric conditions. And the temperature had cooled to mid 20s in Ecopa. If the Eagles were simply unskilled in New Jersey, then the Japanese were falling off tackles all over the place, and with a set-piece asking to be attacked.

Cian Healy of Ireland is tackled by Derek Carpenter of Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Healy of Ireland is tackled by Derek Carpenter of Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"There were some things we definitely need to do better. Any time you concede three tries, you are disappointed.

"They will feel they can take us. The speed they moved the ball, the speed of the footwork of some guys."

No actually, Japan won't feel they can take Ireland. That was just Schmidt being uber cautious, for what they need to fix can't be done in a week - like finding a raft of new players. Ireland, if the injuries work out as the coach expects, will have a good range to choose from, with new caps Rory O'Loughlin and Kieran Treadwell hoping they might get another run.

The options all over the field now are appealing, especially in the back row, where Jack Conan and Dan Leavy have made big impacts. They picked up two tries apiece here. The advent in the second row, too, of James Ryan, who made such an explosive debut in America, and Treadwell, whose form for Ulster made him a shoo-in for this tour, is very positive.

Across the side, the contest to make tackles is obvious. Clearly Japan were a mile off where they needed to be, but part of that was down to Ireland's defence, where Garry Ringrose made a huge contribution.

Cian Healy of Ireland is tackled by Yu Tamura, left, and Derek Carpenter of Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Healy of Ireland is tackled by Yu Tamura, left, and Derek Carpenter of Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"I thought we got a really good work out defensively," Schmidt said.

"As much as we scored a number of tries, while we conceded the three, we defended well."

Paddy Jackson did his bit there, too. Having been a late arrival on this tour, he was keen and accurate - six from six off the tee - but got knocked about a bit, hurting both his ribs and shoulder, meaning Ireland finished with 14 men as the blood flowed. With Joey Carbery already on holiday, the only pressing issue for Schmidt is to have Jackson at 10.

Other than that, it's about checking no one has left lights on or failed to tick a box on their to-do list. Japanese teams are renowned for their selfless work ethic. It's part of their culture. With this group, Schmidt is moulding young men who could teach their hosts a thing or two about tunnel vision, and promoting the collective.

Japan - R Noguchi; K Matsushima, W Tupou, D Carpenter (R Yamanaka 68), K Fukuoka; Y Tamura (R Matsuda 59), F Tanaka (Y Nagare 55); K Inagaki (S Ishihara ht), S Horie (Y Niwai 54), H Ito (yc 25-35), K Yatabe, U Helu (S Matushashi 55), M Leitch (capt), A Mafi (H Tui ht) Y Tokanuga.

Ireland - S Zebo (T O'Halloran ht); A Conway (yc 51-61), G Ringrose (K Marmion 68), R Scannell, K Earls; P Jackson (R O'Loughlin 62), L McGrath (78 no rep left); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 59), N Scannell, (J Tracy 55), John Ryan (F Bealham 63; J Ryan 78), Q Roux, D Toner (K Treadwell 63), R Ruddock (capt; J O'Donoghue HIA 63-71), J Conan (J O'Donoghue 76), D Leavy (J O'Donoghue, blood 50-59).

Ref- M van der Westhuizen (South Africa)

 

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