Japan v Ireland preview: Captain Nichola Fryday not underestimating challenge

Lesley McKenzie’s Japanese outfit are known for their unstructured style of play

Japan v Ireland, Ecopa Stadium, Fukuroi City, Saturday, 11am Irish time — Live blog on Irish Times Sport and live on TG4

She may be feeling in a confident mood ahead of the game, but Ireland women’s rugby captain Nichola Fryday is nonetheless wary of the challenge that awaits them from Japan at the Ecopa Stadium in Fukuroi City later today (11am Irish time/7pm local time).

When the two sides met previously at the RDS last November, a brace of tries courtesy of the now-retired Ciara Griffin helped Ireland towards a 15-12 victory over the Japanese.

That tie brought the curtain down on Adam Griggs’s tenure as Ireland head coach and Greg McWilliams is now the man in the hot seat. This is the first of two tests for the Irish women on a historic summer tour and given the Sakura Fifteen have been busy preparing for the forthcoming World Cup in New Zealand, Fryday is anticipating a full-blown performance from the hosts.

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“There’s no underestimating them. They’re a good side and it was a really tough contest back in November as well. From watching their previous matches against South Africa and Fiji, they like to play quick ball and you expect nothing less of them,” Fryday remarked ahead of the game.

“I know they’re going to try to run us a bit, because they’re most acclimatised to this climate, but we’ve been prepping really well. I feel like we’re in the best place we can be for the match tomorrow.”

Indeed, while Lesley McKenzie’s Japanese outfit are known for their unstructured style of play, Fryday is adamant Ireland are capable of matching them stride for stride in this regard.

“You can’t underestimate the players in our squad either. We have seriously talented players. The younger girls coming through have really shown what kind of flair that they have, but then you have the likes of Sam [Monaghan], Linda [Djougang] and people like that, who thrive off unstructured play and that’s their game as well.

“I think it’s going to actually make for a very interesting match because while the Japanese might be looking to play a fast, unstructured game, we can keep up with that as well because a bit of that is in us too.”

Despite failing to qualify for the World Cup themselves, Ireland currently occupy seventh place in the official women’s rugby world rankings — a full six places above today’s opponents.

Yet the presence of six uncapped players in Ireland’s match day 23 ensures you shouldn’t read too much into the rankings of both teams in advance of this duel. Although there are several within the Japanese ranks who are relatively new to international rugby — most notably the centre pairing of Shione Nakayama and Rinka Matsuda — all of them have seen test action before.

In stark contrast, Méabh Deely, Natasja Behan, Aoife Dalton and Dannah O’Brien will be making their Irish debuts from the word go today. All going well, Taryn Schultzer and Leah Tarpey will also be picking up their first caps off the bench.

McWilliams is still able to call upon plenty of experience, however, with Fryday at the epicentre of a tried and tested pack. All eight of Ireland’s starting forwards will be in double figures for international appearances after today (Sam Monaghan is currently on nine caps) and Fryday acknowledged they will have a big role to play when it comes to easing the young guns into the game.

“As a pack, we’ve recognised we’re the more senior players in the team at the moment. In terms of around the pitch, we want to be helping those younger players as much as we can in terms of getting ourselves into position earlier. So that they’re not trying to think about where we have to be,” Fryday added.

IRELAND: M Deely; N Behan, A Dalton, E Breen, A Doyle; D O’Brien, A Hughes; L Djougang, N Jones, K O’Dwyer; N Fryday, S Monaghan; D Wall, E McMahon, H O’Connor.

Replacements: E Hooban, C Pearse, C Haney, T Schultzer, G Moore, N Cronin, L Tarpey, M Scuffil-McCabe.

JAPAN: R Anoku; R Kurogi, R Matsuda, S Nakayama, K Imakugi; A Otsuka, M Tsukui; S Minami, N Nagata, Y Sadaka; K Tamai, M Takano; M Suzuki, K Hosokawa, A Nagai.

Replacements: H Komaki, K Taniguchi, M Lavemai, M Kawamura, S Saito, M Abe, M Yamamoto, S Korai.