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Brent Pope: 'Joe Schmidt must ring the changes after shocking defeat to Japan'

 

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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

SPORTSFILE

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

I was lucky enough to be in Chicago when the Irish team defeated the All Blacks for the first time in their rugby history and even though the country of my birth was defeated, I was immensely proud of the way that the Kiwis took that loss, with dignity and good sportsmanship.

Can I say that despite the huge disappointment of one of the biggest upsets in world rugby, I was never as proud to call myself an Irishman than I was on Saturday.

I have lived in Ireland for more years than I have in New Zealand, but the way the Irish fans conducted themselves after the shock loss was incredible.

Rugby is still just a sport, but the fact that the Irish stayed long after the final whistle to applaud the Japanese fans, to respectfully bow to them, to hug them to shake their hands in congratulations made this, for me an emotional and memorable occasion.

To witness rows of Japanese fans crying after this historic win made me immensely proud to be wearing green and to witness the sportsmanship from the Irish.

No one predicted this victory by Japan, who by the way did not just score a fluke result – they deserved this win, dominating territory and possession, and creating winning rugby.

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Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Getty Images

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Getty Images

Corbis via Getty Images

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Getty Images

 

In fact, had the Japanese knocked over a couple of kickable goals and had they scored what looked like a certain intercept try late in the game, then Ireland would not have even been close.

At the end, it was Ireland that kicked for the safety of a losing bonus point in the last minute, rather than back themselves and keep the play alive.

That was a sign that they did not believe they could win or draw this match. I warned Ireland that if Japan was still in touch at half time then they would go for it.

You could ask why Ireland did not take points on offer in the first half in an effort to build a cushion. It came across as slightly foolish and maybe a little arrogant.

Japanese coach Jamie Joseph had already lost one of his best players to injury but Ireland somehow let Japan stay in the hunt. They let the Japanese believe that, like South Africa in 2015, a serious upset was on.

Ireland lacked any creativity, they were again far too narrow on defence and attack, and it was the Japanese that found the flair and space to create gaps.

For the first time in Japanese rugby against a top ranked side they pushed Ireland off the ball at scrum time, with Japan’s front row all having extraordinary matches.

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Jack Carty is tackled by Japan’s Ryoto Nakamura during Saturday’s Pool A clash at the Shizuoka Stadium in Fukuroi. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Jack Carty is tackled by Japan’s Ryoto Nakamura during Saturday’s Pool A clash at the Shizuoka Stadium in Fukuroi. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Jack Carty is tackled by Japan’s Ryoto Nakamura during Saturday’s Pool A clash at the Shizuoka Stadium in Fukuroi. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

 

Ireland’s play-makers started  the game well, with Jack Carty creating two Ireland tries with some deft kicks, and centre Gary Ringrose back to his best, or so it seemed.

But after that, Ireland went downhill fast. It seemed they could not handle the humidity, and they looked as they had against England a month or so ago, tired and leg-weary.

Ireland should have known that Japan would try and run the legs off them in broken play and that’s what they did, creating huge holes and mis-matches in Ireland’s flimsy defence.

Ireland were too one-dimensional, crashing and bashing when what they needed was an off-loading game. As a unit, the backrow badly malfunctioned.

As a forward that played in all three positions in the backrow, I can tell Joe Schmidt this – CJ Stander’s best position is atNo 6, not No 8.

It’s no coincidence that Stander won the Man of the Match award against Scotland in the blindside flankers’ role. He had  the freedom of extra space. As a secondary carrier he is good, very good, but as a first-up ball-carrier he is just too light and not dynamic enough for the modern game.

Here’s the problem for Schmidt – he is not going to know who they might play in the quarter-final until a week before, and that makes planning difficult.

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Rory Best’s lineout throwing and general accuracy let him down. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Rory Best’s lineout throwing and general accuracy let him down. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Getty Images

Rory Best’s lineout throwing and general accuracy let him down. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

 

Before this  shock loss Schmidt, without being arrogant, was already looking at a selection and a game plan to beat South Africa in the knock-out stages.

He could also afford to rest key players against Samoa and Russia and in all likelihood, plan for the physical assault by the Springboks.

Now, he must also plan for a potential match against New Zealand should Japan beat Scotland and top the pool. Planning for a game against New Zealand is a different animal.

Schmidt also has to consider changes to his side. I suggest that centres Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki need to make a snappy return to the team, and that Schmidt also needs to look at his back three and his loose forward combinations.

With No 8 Jack Conan already back in Ireland, it makes things a little more difficult.

Make no mistake, this was a gut-busting loss, a historical loss, but in my opinion Ireland will still make the quarter-finals and now be serious underdogs.

That will probably suit them, but I’ll finish this piece the way that I started it . . .

Rugby, no matter how passionate, is still just a sport. But it has an ability to elevate us as people, and the way that the Irish supporters conducted themselves after the loss should make every Irish person proud. It is the reason that the Irish are loved by every nation in the world.

As a 'Plastic Paddy' or a blow-in, whatever way you want to describe me, I was in tears for the right reasons after the match, despite the loss – tears of Irish pride.

Online Editors