'The strength of the team will be how they respond' - Joe Schmidt says loss of control the biggest disappointment
IRELAND coach Joe Schmidt has challenged his team to show character and respond to their shock defeat to Japan at the Ecopa Stadium in Shizuoka.
A disappointed Schmidt confirmed that Jack Conan's World Cup is over, but said no decision has been taken on calling up a replacement with Jordi Murphy highly likely to fly to Japan tomorrow ahead of Thursday's now-crucial clash with Russia.
The New Zealander watched on frustrated as his team coughed up an early 12-3 lead, losing control of a commanding position as a result of good Japanese play, some poor discipline and their own mistakes.
He congratulated Japan on their performance, but will hone in on his side's deficiencies as the team make their way to Kobe tomorrow ahead of the meeting with the Russians.
Ireland remain in control of their own destiny, but this damaging defeat means they need to secure 10 points from their remaining games against Russia and Samoa to confirm their place in the quarter-finals, while hoping for a favour from Scotland, who face Japan in the final pool match, to avoid New Zealand in the last eight.
"Firstly, I'd like to congratulate the Japanese for the energy, the intensity and the skill-level they brought to tonight's game," he said.
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"They are a big team, they play big and they were very difficult to contain.
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"I felt we probably controlled the first-quarter pretty well, went 12-3 up with two tries scored and, you know, it's probably exactly what we asked for.
"But the longer the game went on the more oxygen they got from penalties and from the skill they showed.
"And, you've got to commend them for that.
"It's not the first time we've seen them do it, it's not a surprise to us that they were incredibly tough to beat and the quality of Michael Leitch coming off the bench - he really added value as well when he came on, Yu Tamura and (Timothy) Lafaele got an arm-chair ride.
"We got penalised for a few offsides and then we became hesitant. Once we became hesitant we couldn't really put the same pressure on them as they were putting on us.
"They got a real roll on, so it's a tough defeat for us to take. I think the strength of the team will be how they respond and rebound from this.
"A six-day turnaround into this game was a little tough and we've got a five-day turnaround now into Russia in Kobe on Thursday.
"That will be another challenge for us."
Schmidt honed in on his team's loss of control as the toughest pill to swallow.
"The biggest disappointment was to score two tries in the first quarter and not to add to that is incredibly disappointing," he said.
"To put ourselves in a couple of positions where we felt that we were close enough and putting real pressure on and we got quite close and then didn't actually capitalise.
"We turned one over in the second half where it was very hard for us to get the ball placement.
"We were on top of the tackler and I thought that pretty tough but you've got to be tough enough to cope with this things and certainly, we've got to be better at what we're doing and we've got to demonstrate that in five days' time so we're not going to get a lot of time to put anything together."
The 21-point favourites were left hanging on for dear life at the death when Keith Earls hauled Kenki Fukuoka down after he'd intercepted Jordan Larmour's pass, before Joey Carbery got the ball off the pitch to preserve the bonus point.
That decision drew criticism from some quarters, but Schmidt was relieved to get the point that means his side remain in the competition if they win their two remaining Pool A games with bonus points.
"Potentially, the bonus point could be really important. It means that we've got six points from our two pool games so far, Japan have got nine and Samoa have got five. So they're the ones who've got points so far and you've got to finish in the top two," he said.
"So, keeping that bonus point allowed us to stay in front of Samoa in the short-term and we know that Scotland will be a player and Russia will line us up in five days' time."
"As I said, those tight turnarounds are pretty tough going and we will, I suppose, have to chase a little bit now because we want to stay within a chance of topping the pool.
"Certainly, we've got to get in the top two."
Schmidt said before the game that Ireland fans could expect to see his team put more width on the ball and the coach defended his tactics in the aftermath of the game.
"No, we didn't go out with an explicit idea of playing any differently from the way we normally play.
"The way we started the game is the way we play the game.
"And I felt we got good linebreaks, got in behind them and scored two tries. We were putting pressure on and I think Rob Kearney's try was on the back of two penalty advantages that we had because we were putting the pressure on and Japan were under pressure.
"Unfortunately, that reversed as soon as they got hold of the ball and we missed a couple of marks.
"I think we got two lineouts in the second-half, we didn't get too many platforms to play from and they kept the ball for very long periods."
The coach refused to criticise referee Angus Gardner's performance but said they would submit a report to World Rugby when he has reviewed the match footage.
The focus for Schmidt and his team quickly turns to the quick turnaround before they take on Russia in Kobe on Thursday and he is already concerned by the lack of preparation time with Rob Kearney likely to miss out after failing a Head Injury Assessment.
"We're doing an open session in Kobe on Tuesday and that will be the only training we have in the lead-up to Russia, who have already proved themselves to be very physical, very combative, very competitive," he said.
"They stayed in the game a long time with the Japanese and that's a measure of how competitive they can be and even in the Samoa game, while they lost that game, they actually had a lot of the game, a lot of the ball and put Samoa under a lot of pressure.
"So, we're anticipating another really tough game in five days' time and we're going to have to dust ourselves off and certainly perform better than we did here."