Tuesday 22 October 2019

Billy Keane: 'All is not lost but massive levels of do-or-die required - and Japan showed us how'

Irish full-back Rob Kearney releases possession as he is tackled by Japan’s Pieter Labuschagne. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Irish full-back Rob Kearney releases possession as he is tackled by Japan’s Pieter Labuschagne. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

When the final whistle went Japan embraced the team that cut loose. Ireland were well beaten. But we are still here with a chance.

I'm on the late train back to Tokyo and there is hardly a sound from the hosts. The Japanese are good winners. Modest and humble. Happy for what they have achieved on a humid autumn evening high up on a hill in a place far away from the big cities.

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As for us, we were never as up for it. Ireland were the straight men in a comedy of errors.

At least Ireland now know what they need to do to get through. Our destiny is still in our own hands.

Keith Earls saved us. There was a Japanese interception and it was only a question of running over and touching down, but Earls could catch a bullet train while it's still moving. He saved the bonus point when all seemed lost.

In the fan-zone before the game, the fluffy eggs were piled as high as a pagoda. The chabacca came with a sign that read "this is not tobacco". Chabacca is Japanese green tea, but this wasn't a green tea crowd.

Some of the food was only signed in Japanese. We suspected offal. The Japanese are the Cork people of Asia. They'd eat any part of the pig.

Drumming The entertainment was a local drama group who performed Noh plays in masks with drumming, dancing and singing. There was a touch of the Athea wren boys about them and in the end, the Irish fans gave the troupe a massive ovation.

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There was plenty of beer and it was not expensive.

Ireland were well outnumbered. The Japanese came en famille. There was a huge Irish contingent from Australia which is about 12 hours away.

We met the Lehane brothers from Kiskeam, Co Cork the night before the game in the out-of-season seaside town of Atami. The Irish packed in to a pub that was so small you couldn't even fit in the cat, never mind swing him.

Paddy O'Brien from Bective led the charge. It was a fortuitous meeting in a sleepy place where only the tide goes out in September.

The stall that advertised Russian food in the Shizuoka stadium fan-zone was even quieter. The proprietor must have thought Russia were playing Japan, but that game took place in Yokohama on this day last week.

The Japanese anthem was low, key. There were no rousing bits with blood and thunder, carnage and murder. The Japanese waited until 'The Fields' was finished to rat-a-tat-tat their staccato chants.

Bizarrely, the stadium DJ played 'Molly Malone' when Rob Kearney from Louth scored Ireland's second try from a superb Jack Carty tap-back.

Maybe it was an homage to a fishmonger. The Japanese love their seafood. Raw or cooked, like the pig, every bit of the fish is eaten, from head to toe.

The DJ screamed like a werewolf and he was not neutral. Still though I never heard of a game that was won by a DJ.

We were just down from the VIP section in the press area. I was shown a photo of the urinals by our cousin Pat Treacy. There was a mini TV on the top of each one so the guests wouldn't miss any of the game when they were doing their bit of business.

Ireland were looking good and it seemed as if we were going to win handy enough.

Japan played their way in to the game, and Ireland lacked control.

Referee Angus Gardner should be sent on gardening leave for the rest of the tournament. He couldn't have been worse. World Rugby must discipline him.

But you couldn't say the ref won it for Japan. He was a big help but it was the team that did it. They raced off at half-time whereas Ireland looked drained from the heat and the humidity.

Japan were the more up for it and why wouldn't they be when they were playing the former No 1-ranked team in the world on home soil. I wandered through the Japanese section to our left and there was hardly a word during half-time. They went all quiet again.

There seems to be no highs or lows. The Irish were wiping their brows with towels. It was hot humid and frantic. We should have slowed it down. Jonathan Sexton was a massive loss. He is our leader and Joe's head prefect.

Ireland tried to put on the brakes but you can only stop the train when you have the wheel. Japan were in the driving seat.

The winning try was caused by another Irish mistake. In this the land of tremors and earthquakes, Ireland were badly shaken.

Harder The Irish who live here tell me this is a very easy country to fall in love with and the Japanese project players played as if they were native-born.

Japan went in harder and the crowd here cheer every single tackle. This was a massive boost to their players.

There were huge queues for the trains after the game but the Irish sang away even though we lost. There wasn't a word out of the Japanese even though they won. The trains left on time but there weren't enough. The fans were very badly treated in a place that was hospitable but so hard to get to.

It was the kind of a night when Japan would have beaten anyone who dared to take them on.

But all is not lost. Ireland must find fight levels of do-or-die beyond anything we have ever achieved before.

Japan showed us how.

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