Sunday 18 August 2019

Japan-based Feek wary of ever-improving strengths of Brave Blossoms

Greg Feek. Photo: Sportsfile
Greg Feek. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúairdhí O'Connor

As Ireland's man in Japan, Greg Feek has been keeping a close eye on the Brave Blossoms - and has been impressed with what he's seen.

Under the expert guidance of New Zealanders Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown, Ireland's pool rivals have made a strong start to the Pacific Nations Cup by beating Fiji and Tonga in their first two games.

Like Joe Schmidt's side, for which South African lock Jean Kleyn qualifies through residency tomorrow ahead of Saturday's warm-up game against Italy, the Japanese have been making full use of World Rugby's eligibility laws to bolster their squad.

The hosts take on Russia on the opening night of the World Cup, before welcoming Ireland to Shizuoka eight days' later.

The two teams met twice in 2017, with Ireland running out comfortable winners.

But Feek, who combines his Ireland duties with a role as coach at the NEC Green Rockets in the Japanese Top League, believes Japan have strengthened considerably since then and will be a dangerous opponent.

"They have got a lot of guys who have come in through eligibility, they have been training throughout the whole Super Rugby on and off, in an out, trialling different combinations," he said.

Footwork

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"I don't know if you have seen the footwork of some of the outside backs, that's Japan rugby. A lot of the Top League teams have footwork like that and it is really hard to defend at times.

"Their half-backs like to have a crack as well. They are quite quick off the ground with their pass, you can see their style of play. It is keep as many numbers off the ground, have as many on their feet.

"It's less numbers in rucks and speed of ball, so playing that game.

"Now they have brought in a few variants with their set-piece attack and the kicking game, which can be an issue over there with the humidity so, yeah, there is some exciting things for them."

Kleyn, meanwhile, could be in line for his debut on Saturday and Feek says he's settled in well.

"Jean brings a little bit of a different element to (the second-row mix)," the scrum coach said.

"He's a big man, he's played for Munster on the tighthead side of the scrum and enjoys the physical side of the game.

"Like anyone who comes in new, it's making sure he understands the way we play the game, the intensity of it and getting his detail right… not forgetting the strengths he brings."

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