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Eamonn Sweeney: 'Was this the worst defeat in Irish sporting history? Can you think of a worse one?'

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Ireland player Jacob Stockdale shows his dejection after the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A defeat to Japan in Shizuoka. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Ireland player Jacob Stockdale shows his dejection after the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A defeat to Japan in Shizuoka. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

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Ireland player Jacob Stockdale shows his dejection after the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A defeat to Japan in Shizuoka. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

The mockery of Eddie O’Sullivan because his team only scraped past Georgia and the laughter which greeted the infamous draw in Liechtenstein seem a bit unfair now.

The Shizuoka Shitshow is in a class of its own.

All those predictions that Ireland could win the World Cup turn out to have been the sporting equivalent of those late Celtic Tiger era exhortations to keep buying property because the boom would get boomier. Hardly anyone saw this crash coming either.

In the stands, Joe Schmidt looked like a man who’d just heard how his Anglo Irish Bank shares were doing.

His players looked like guys who’d discovered what those East European apartments they’d bought off the plans were really worth. Ireland haven’t turned out to be the new All Blacks any more than Bulgaria turned out to be the new Tuscany.

Japan were regarded as a mere stepping stone towards encounters with teams more worthy of our attention. They were the amuse-bouche preceding the meal proper. We choked on it.

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The Irish defence line wait for Japan to play a pass during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Japan and Ireland at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa in Shizuoka on September 28, 2019. Photo: William West/Getty Images

The Irish defence line wait for Japan to play a pass during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Japan and Ireland at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa in Shizuoka on September 28, 2019. Photo: William West/Getty Images

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The Irish defence line wait for Japan to play a pass during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Japan and Ireland at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa in Shizuoka on September 28, 2019. Photo: William West/Getty Images

Chickens which had been circling the coop for a while came home to roost like a flock of vultures descending on the carcass of Irish hope.

It turns out that the true indicator of Ireland’s worth is not last week’s meeting with the Supine Scots but this year’s Six Nations campaign, when the lineaments of approaching disaster were there to be seen. Our 2019 form turned out to be more relevant than our 2018 form. Who’d have thought it?

Irish hopes of exiting Japan without further disgrace now rest with the Scots, so readily mocked a week ago. Should they beat the hosts we might yet progress to a quarter-final against South Africa and for a week delude ourselves that our hopes are not in complete tatters.

Should Japan beat Scotland, Ireland face a meeting with the All Blacks, which could turn out very embarrassing indeed.

Just before half-time you could see things beginning to unravel. Rory Best overthrew a line-out, Tadhg Furlong knocked the ball forward in the tackle, Jack Carty put a kick-off dead, an Irish scrum disintegrated humiliatingly in the Japanese 22.

It was like that moment in a slasher movie when the lad announces he’ll check out that noise in the basement and the creepy music accompanies him down the stairs.

Japan played well. But too often, Irish miscues like Best’s throw and Carty’s kick had less to do with opposition excellence than our own sloppiness. We continued on our merry way in the second half.

Four minutes in, with an excellent attacking position in the opposition 22, Conor Murray was caught in a ruck. The only ones who seemed to notice this were the Japanese, who promptly stole the ball and cleared.

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Michael Leitch of Japan walks off the pitch as he applauded by the Ireland team following the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Ireland at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on September 28, 2019 in Fukuroi, Shizuoka, Japan. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Michael Leitch of Japan walks off the pitch as he applauded by the Ireland team following the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Ireland at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on September 28, 2019 in Fukuroi, Shizuoka, Japan. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

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Michael Leitch of Japan walks off the pitch as he applauded by the Ireland team following the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Ireland at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on September 28, 2019 in Fukuroi, Shizuoka, Japan. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Six minutes after that another good platform was squandered when a lineout went astray. A routine high kick was spilled in the 52nd minute to cede good field position to Japan.

Five minutes later CJ Stander picked up from the back of a scrum and passed to Chris Farrell who promptly ran into the back of him to concede a penalty for accidental offside. Again, this had less to do with opposition pressure than Irish inattention to detail.

A minute later Kenki Fukuoka crossed for the winning try. The fact that we were undone by Fukuoka in the city of Fukuroi seemed peculiarly appropriate. Ireland rallied and had a ruck just short of the Japanese line where James Ryan was penalised for not releasing.

The sight of our best player transgressing in this manner seemed to sum up the wretched nature of the whole effort.

About the only good Irish moment came when Keith Earls made up ground brilliantly to deny Fukuoka a second try and preserve Ireland’s losing bonus point. Ireland might be grateful for that point yet. That is where they are now.

Joe Schmidt is the zombie manager, still in charge though everyone knows he’s on his way out. Now Ireland have become the zombie team, condemned to trek on for another three weeks towards inevitable quarter-final defeat.

This wasn’t the first time Ireland have looked stolid and unimaginative. But the lack of creativity was thrown into particularly sharp relief by a Japanese team who seemed full of ideas and perpetually willing to take risks.

The killer was that the forward dominance which might have been expected to justify Ireland’s shortcomings elsewhere never materialised. Time and again it was the eight samurai of the Japanese pack who made ground with ball in hand, delivered the big hits and relished the collisions.

That 'Cian Healy teaches those pesky foreigners a lesson' storyline which had been flagged all week didn’t pan out. Neither did the Rory Best redemption one. If the Irish captain ‘answered his critics’ last week, what did he do yesterday?

Best isn’t the only one who looks worn out. That old Leaving Cert poetry favourite, Thomas Gray’s ploughman homeward plodding his weary way, was a figure of huge energy and vitality compared to most of the Irish forwards.

What excuses can there be for this fiasco? September 28, 2019 is another date that will live in infamy.

It made you wonder if renowned rugby fan Samuel Beckett might have scripted the whole thing. He was, after all, a great man for depicting the dashing of illusions and the absurdity of human hopes.

Waiting for Webb Ellis is some downer. Like Godot, the title character never turns up.

Online Editors