Wednesday 16 October 2019

Billy Keane: 'Ireland's own are feeling effects of Japan's humidity - on and off the pitch'

Japan’s Kotaro Matsushima (C) celebrates after scoring their fourth try to claim a bonus-point win over Samoa at Toyota Stadium on Saturday. Photo: Adrian Dennis / AFP/ Getty
Japan’s Kotaro Matsushima (C) celebrates after scoring their fourth try to claim a bonus-point win over Samoa at Toyota Stadium on Saturday. Photo: Adrian Dennis / AFP/ Getty
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Jockeys often take to the sauna when they need to lose a pound or two. Sometimes the race riders wear woolly jumpers, a vest you could wrap a mummy in, bubble wrap, and a pair of Long Johns as thick as a sliced pan.

All the Japanese jockeys need to do is spend some time in the friendly but steamy prefecture of Shizuoka.

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The rugby stadium is high up on a hill and the climb up to the Ireland Japan game would test a Sherpa.

There's this long row of steps leading up to the Shizuoka Stadium and fully two hours before the Ireland Japan game about 30,000 Japanese fans were making their way up the hill. I checked carefully. I swear I was the only Irish person among the cherry blossom jerseys.

The Irish remained at base camp.

The Japanese reminded us of the old boys who used to go to the Munster final in Killarney back in the days when the provincial final was played in July.

They were there in the grassy terrace, hours before the throw-in, and no matter how hot the day was, the heavy black coat was worn like a uniform. These men lived in constant fear of rain. Our Mam used to say only a fool goes out without a coat in the rain. The butter oozed out of the hang sandwiches, but the coat stayed on.

Comb-over The big storm Lorenzo barely tossed a comb-over around here. There were no storms in Japan. We did see a tsunami warning sign on Atami Beach. So far so good for the World Cup.

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I was surprised how much butter is used in Japanese cooking and it's a proven fact that they live longer than us. The Japanese love the bit of fat too. You would want an extra store if you played sport in Shizouka.

Still though there wasn't a cow to be seen in the three or four small fields on the 515-kilometre rail trip between Tokyo and Kyoto.

There was no way you could fry an egg on the stones of Shizuoka but you could poach one. So up the steps I go and by about row ten I was knackered.

The Japanese brought light jackets, and many wore long pants. The ascent took little out of our lovely hosts. I noticed there was an escalator, but you couldn't pick it out from the butt of the hill, such was the forest of cherry blossoms up above.

I would have planted an Irish flag on the summit if I had one. There was an Irish man wearing socks inside his sandals. Every step he took had a squelch for a soundtrack.

It was then I knew we were in big trouble.

It annoys me when I read and heard the studio dry socks complaining about the Irish team after the Japanese game. The Russian match was played indoors. You could bottle the sweat as beer.

Irish athletes have always suffered in the humidity when the major championships take place in high summer. Japan are a very good team. They beat South Africa in the last World Cup. Japan lost to the Scots after that but the referee was very good to Scotland.

That trend has changed. Joe called out Angus Gardner, who was found guilty of mismanaging the Japanese game.

Jaco Peyper whistled up for a crooked put-in by Samoa. Up to this, the World Cup scrum-halves stuck the ball in through their own letter box. The Japanese put-in was exactly the same as Samoa's. Crooked. Bonus point for Japan. Ireland under even more pressure.

Scotland must face Japan in the crucial last game of the group four days after the Russian match. Go on, guess where the game takes place? It's Shizuoka.

We played Scotland in Yokohama. The weather was hot at the start and then the rains came. Yokohama is a port and there was a lovely breeze coming in from Tokyo Bay.

There were a good many Japanese people in the press area in Croke Park over the summer. No one seemed to know what they were doing there. I'm guessing now. Were they learning from the GAA how to favour the home team?

There were more errors in the games played in Shizuoka than in any other stadium. Ireland made fewer mistakes than any other team. Even the ball sweated.

The English media knocked more of their own soccer teams out of the soccer World Cup than the opposition. We need to take care here.

Jonathan Sexton was so proud to be picked to captain his country against Samoa. There were tears in his eyes when 'Ireland's Call' was sung out by the fans who have shown this team unconditional love.

Criticism Jonathan's dad Jerry had just checked in at Narita Airport for the long journey home to Kerry when he found out his son was captain. It was too late to turn back. Yes, players do have mams and dads.

Soon enough our team will have to go for a HIA after reading the papers, the internet and watching TV. Fair criticism is allowed and is necessary. But how far do we go?

Players have been badly scarred by the 'net. I know because they told me so. Mainstream professional punditry is becoming radicalised by the sheep worriers.

There will be more pressure after Samoa. We will struggle again because they are tough boys who can get a run on teams.

Sexton will take the wheel. He will sail close to the shore and Ireland should be okay. He is calm under all that fire.

We will unfurl the sails in the cool winds, if we get to the quarter-finals.

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