'The mood of the whole country has shifted in 80 minutes' - O'Driscoll and O'Connell on Ireland's stunning defeat
A clearly stunned Brian O’Driscoll was at a loss to explain how a ‘blunt’ Ireland let a 12-3 21st minute lead turn into a 19-12 full-time defeat to Rugby World Cup hosts Japan.
Tries from Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney had Ireland in a dominant position after the game’s first quarter but as the heat and humidity sapped the players' energy, Japan played their way into the game before dominating the second half to complete a remarkable turnaround.
The result ranks as one of the biggest World Cup shock in history, only rivalled by Japan's famous victory over South Africa in the 'Miracle of Brighton' four years ago.
"The mood of the whole country has shifted in 80 minutes," the ex-Ireland captain said, speaking on ITV's match coverage, in a quote that applies equally to both nations.
"For one, I didn't see that happening. I knew it would be a tough game playing against the host nation. They’d nothing to lose but huge credit to Japan, they played terrific rugby but Ireland looked very blunt.
"They looked devoid of ideas, they looked devoid of energy actually. I wonder did the conditions and the humidity take effect because it wasn't the Ireland we’ve come to expect over the last couple of years.
"It’s very disappointing. It’s not the end of the tournament, they can still top the pool but they have some amount of work if they’re even thinking about getting beyond the quarter-final."
Fellow panelist Paul O'Connell pointed to the Japanese ruck as a root cause of Ireland’s ills with none of Joe Schmidt’s changes having the desired effect of halting the Blossoms’ charge.
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"They looked very flat, they replaced the two props after 45 minutes. I thought Henderson looked quite flat fin the second half," he added.
"A big thing for Ireland over the last couple of years has been their ruck. They've had the best ruck in the world in terms of ball retention and in terms of speed of ball. And Japan has just absolutely done a job on them at the breakdown.
"Their breakdown was absolutely phenomenal, I think they only gave away one penalty, maybe two with one late on. Ireland gave away six penalties at the breakdown but that's only half the story.
"Every time Ireland had possession, Japan were managing to get one, two hands on the ball. Every time they were slowing it down so Ireland couldn't secure fast ball when they had it.
"I think that’s the real story of the day. The way the Japanese played, the way they held onto the ball, they tired Ireland out and their ruck was just phenomenal."
Ireland now face into games against Russia next Thursday before finishing Pool A against Samoa the day before the hosts take on Scotland. Japan hold the destiny of the group in their hands and thee defeat has given Scotland a lifeline. The fact that Joey Carbery chose to kick the ball into touch and secure a losing bonus point when a converted try would have drawn the game spoke volumes about just how rattled Ireland were.
And O'Driscoll called on the squad to try and move on from the loss as plans for a potential semi-final against South Africa are put on ice.
"The debrief will be painful viewing but you have to park that very quickly," he concluded.
"Now is the realisation that they have to get back on point for the final two games which they’re very capable of doing.
"Ultimately, they’ll have to wait for the result of the final group game between Japan and Scotland if you take for granted that Japan win their remaining game before that.
"Maybe we’ll be playing for second place, it's up in the air, we don't really know. It's turned the pool into a very exciting place."