Tuesday 22 October 2019

Rúaidhrí O'Connor: 'First-choice pack will have too much power for Brave Blossoms'

Hosts will cause problems but Ireland’s forwards to win it

Cian Healy pictured during squad training at the Yumeria Sports Grounds in Iwata, Japan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Healy pictured during squad training at the Yumeria Sports Grounds in Iwata, Japan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

The Ecopa Stadium in Shizuoka witnessed one of the great FIFA World Cup goals when Ronaldinho lobbed David Seaman to knock England out with an unforgettable free-kick in 2002. Ireland will hope they don't need to dip into their bag of magic tricks against Japan tomorrow.

Most pundits expect to win this game pulling up, but playing the hosts at a World Cup is always a tricky thing to do.

Ireland faced the home team in 1987 when they lost the quarter-final to Australia, lost to Scotland in Murrrayfield in 1991, missed out against Australia in 2003 and were well beaten by France in 2007.

At the same time they've lost a couple of home fixtures in '91 and '99, but they've never had much luck when playing away from home in this tournament.

As the first Asian tier-two hosts, the Brave Blossoms are a different proposition but there is plenty riding on their capacity to get out of Pool A and into the quarter-finals.

Scotland's failure to earn a bonus point in Yokohama has given the Japanese an in.

Click to view full size graphic
Click to view full size graphic

And if they can either score four tries or finish within seven points of the Irish they'll be ahead of the game.

They have a clever coaching ticket, have had an extra two days to recover from their win over Russia and they'll be better set to play in the heat and humidity expected, with the kick-off set for mid-afternoon.

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Ireland are without their most important player and his nominated back-up is only fit enough for bench action.

Jack Carty has enjoyed an excellent 18 months and has plenty of ability, but this is by far the biggest game of his life.

Japan are a talented team, with lots of game-breaking runners and a high-octane game-plan designed to exploit teams on the wide-edge. Exactly the type of team Ireland traditionally struggle with.

Joe Schmidt will draw huge comfort from the performance against the Scots, but wonder how much it took out of the legs.

Rory Best goes again after his 80 minute shift last Sunday, as does the entire forward pack who will be charged with winning the game by squeezing the life out of the hosts.

There's a reason the Japanese have been out in the media putting pressure on referee Angus Gardner to watch the Irish scrum closely.

Although it was one of their key assets in 2015, the locals' scrum is now their Achilles heel and the Irish set-piece is a real weapon.

Schmidt prefers to play off the scrum, but he'll be quite content to do so with penalty advantage. Expect CJ Stander to keep the ball at his feet for long periods as Cian Healy (below), Tadhg Furlong and Best go to work.

The lineout is another source of strength and Ireland will feel that one way of keeping the talented Japanese back-three out of the game is by denying them access to the game. If they destroy their set-piece, they'll deny them oxygen and suck the life from the crowd.

Still, Schmidt will want to see growth in the team's attacking performance after a superbly organised display against the Scots.

He will look to Keith Earls and Rob Kearney to respond to the challenge laid down by the performance of Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour in Yokohama, while Chris Farrell has a real opportunity to thrive in the absence of Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki.

Most of the focus, however, will inevitably rest on Carty who gets the nod ahead of Joey Carbery as Johnny Sexton misses out altogether.

Schmidt played down concerns about the reigning World Player of the Year's health and said all of his walking wounded will be available to face Russia next Thursday, and it's a mark of how the Connacht man has impressed since being called up to the squad in February that he's trusted to start this game.

Playing behind that pack will help, as will the presence of Conor Murray inside and the bail-out option of Farrell outside.


Defensively, the Athlone native is a good chop-tackler, while Garry Ringrose will be a key figure with ability to defend the edge if the Japanese do get outside the Irish rush defence.

Although their captain Michael Leitch is held in reserve as he continues to make his way back from injury, Jamie Joseph has named a strong side for this game and unleashes the brilliant No 8 Amanaki Mafi who sat out the opener a week ago.

Schmidt had planned to pick Jack Conan opposite him, but he suffered a training-ground injury which forced a late re-jig before the team announcement and CJ Stander, Peter O'Mahony and Josh van der Flier will have their hands full with the Tonga-born ball-carrier.

If he can get his side going forward, then Japan will look to unleash their potent backline with quick ball.

William Tupou and Kotaro Matsushima have the game-breaking ability to cause real problems if given the licence. Ireland's mission is to starve them of the ball.

And they have picked the forward pack to do just that and more as they look to move one step closer to the quarter-finals.

Verdict: Japan 24 Ireland 34

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