Ireland romp past Japan against backdrop of Lions snub
Keith Earls inspires seven-try rout but discussion revolves around Gatland’s call-ups
Keith Earls was impressive again as Ireland routed Japan. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Japan 22 Ireland 50
Coaches and their secret plans rarely stay untold.
This contest, we’ll call it thus for the sake of reportage, unfolded against the backdrop of a decision by Warren Gatland to seemingly sully the British and Irish Lions jersey, the four nation badge, the money making brand, all in search of the sacred formula required to win a Test series in New Zealand.
Four Welsh and two Scots were called into Lions camp to bench against the Waikato Chiefs on Tuesday because Gatland knew months ago that the tour’s unrealistic schedule compelled him to shield the 26 or so bodies needed to prepare for first All Blacks Test this Saturday.
Joe Schmidt was privy to this all along. The Ireland coach knew before Steve Hansen starting singing while England coach Eddie Jones was possibly late to the show as well.
“I have had no contact from the Lions at all,” said Schmidt on Saturday as these events were unfolding, following a Keith Earls inspired seven tries to three win in Shizuoka. “I was aware that it was likely that players were going to come in for that Chiefs game before [THE LIONS]left [for New Zealand]. That was always part of the plan.
“The practicality of it makes sense. I think with the attritional nature of fully professional rugby it is a smart move to have some cavalry roll in and assist the squad and to protect your 23. Because you cannot beat the All Blacks with 15 players.”
Gatland, following the Lions victory over the Maori, was later asked if the call-ups are undeserving of the honour - and are irreparably damaging the entire concept.
Gatland redirected the question to his players. The same men who need to curry his favour over the coming days. Schmidt pointed us towards Simon Easterby, his forwards coach and merit-based late call up for the 2005 Lions, and the outstanding Earls, who toured South Africa in 2009.
Slight problem. Easterby and Earls were unavailable for interview.
“Cian Healy has been playing like a man possessed,” said Schmidt of the northern hemisphere’s premier loosehead prop in 2013 when Healy went on a Lions tour, mangled his ankle and has since limped between surgeries and rehabilitation until this season’s return to his power game - just not in enough time to reel in the steady progress of incumbent Lions prop Jack McGrath.
The Lions is a career target, a life time ambition that compels players like Peter O’Mahony and Healy to risk their future health in order to be selected.
Healy could have been pulled from this game. He could have avoided the bullet train to Hamamatsu on Thursday, instead flying the 10 hours 35 minutes from Tokyo to Auckland where he would have four days to acclimatise to the three hour time difference before offering world class, and most importantly, justifiable loosehead cover for Joe Marler against the Chiefs.
Instead, Gatland - whose sole intention is to beat the All Blacks and is “willing to do whatever it takes” to achieve this - called up Allan Dell.
Get this: the South African born 25 year old, who only moved to Edinburgh in 2014, qualifying for Scotland via his grandmother, replaced Gordon Reid in the 55th minute of Saturday’s 24-19 victory over Australia in Sydney.
Afterwards, Dell presumably changed out of Scotland gear, showered and went to the airport for a three hour flight into a two hour time zone differential.
Devaluing the shirt?
“Does it devalue the shirt?” Gatland repeated a question. “You are only a Lion when you get on the field.”
So, Gatland is no Lion, nor, on that premise, is he an All Black.
That’s the message for Dell, for Finn Russell and Gareth Davies.
Of course Dell, who once dreamed of becoming Springbok, will probably be a fully fledged Lion on Tuesday morning. Nobody can take that away from him.
Just like nobody can give it back to Healy.
“I can’t speak for them (the players),” said Schmidt despite Eddie Jones lacerating the Joe Launchbury snub on the basis that Gatland decided, months in advance, to only choose Welsh and Scottish cover due to their proximity and not ability. “I hope [IRISH PLAYERS]still have a chance, you don’t wish ill on anybody, but if someone picks up an injury they could still get called in.”
Schmidt has his own patch to protect. Ireland suffered a heavy toll under the Japanese sun. It’s unclear whether Paddy Jackson can shake off rib and shoulder damage sustained covering across the field early in the first half to deny Kotaro Matsushima, another South African playing in this globally inclusive sport, a certain try.
Jackson recovered to kick the lights out.
Luke McGrath’s blurred vision should clear but Finlay Bealham was opened up and missed a valuable opportunity while Simon Zebo hurt his knee again.
The ferocious Dan Leavy needed stitches and Rhys Ruddock will be monitored despite passing a Head Injury Assessment within seven minutes.
And the jaded looking Healy, replaced by Dave Kilcoyne on 58 minutes, the man possessed, who awoke in the wee hours in New Jersey to watch the Lions lose to the Auckland Blues, the Clontarf teenager who once dreamed of wearing the red jersey against the All Blacks, he should be fine too.
Ireland have returned to Tokyo where they will train on former Munster coach Rob Penny’s NTT Shining Arcs pitches ahead of the second test at Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu this Saturday at 6.40am Irish time.
Ireland scorers: Tries: K Earls (2), D Leavy (2), J Conan (2), G Ringrose, Cons: P Jackson (5), R Scannell, Pen: P Jackson.
Japan scorers: Tries: R Noguchi, K Fukuoka, Y Nagare. Cons: R Matsuda (2). Pens: Y Tamura.
Ireland: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Paddy Jackson, Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Quinn Roux, Devin Toner; Rhys Ruddock (capt), Dan Leavy, Jack Conan. Replacements: T O’Halloran for S Zebo (half-time), J Tracy for N Scannell (55 mins), J O’Donoghue for D Leavy (56-58 mins, blood), D Kilcoyne for C Healy (58 mins), F Bealham for J Ryan, K Treadwell for D Toner, R O’Loughlin for P Jackson (all 61 mins), J O’Donoghue for R Ruddock (63-71 mins, HIA), K Marmion for G Ringrose(67 mins), J O’Donoghue for J Conan (75 mins), J Ryan for F Bealham (78 mins), L McGrath off (78 mins).
Japan: Ryuji Noguchi; Kotaro Matsushima, William Tupou, Derek Carpenter, Kenki Fukuoka; Yu Tamura, Fumiaki Tanaka; Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie, Heiichiro Ito; Kotaro Yatabe, Uwe Helu; Michael Leitch (capt), Yoshitaka Tokanuga, Amanaki Mafi. Replacements: S Ishihara for K Inagaki, H Tui for A Mafi (both half-time), Y Niwai for S Horie, S Matsuhashi for U Helu, Y Nagare for F Tanaka (all 53 mins), R Matsuda for Y Tamura (58 mins), R Yamanaka for D Carpenter (66 mins).
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa).