Ireland have every reason to be wary of Japan this time

Coach Joseph retains a strong core of the side that shocked Farrell’s side in the World Cup

The Japan team in a huddle during their captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium on Friday. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

The Japan team in a huddle during their captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium on Friday. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

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Ireland v Japan, Venue: Aviva Stadium. Kick-off: 1pm. On TV: Live on RTÉ and Channel 4 (Northern Ireland).

Ireland v Japan the sequel, with the probability of another meeting in November to add to a rivalry now given real substance by the Brave Blossoms’ stunning World Cup pool meeting.

This has nothing like the same relevance as the events in Shizuoka Stadium in September 2019, but it makes for a tasty rematch.

It’s hard to credit that Ireland went into the Shizuoka meeting as 21-point favourites, with Japan at odds of 8/1 to win. This time Japan are just ten-point underdogs, ably reflecting how much they were underrated back then and how well-primed they are coming into today’s match.

Jamie Joseph retains a strong core of that victorious side, nine of the starting XV and 14 of the 23, whereas Ireland have five of the starting line-up and just eight of the match-day squad. Japan should therefore have more continuity.

They have also been together for five weeks and following on from their Top League endeavours have had the benefit of outings against the Sunwolves and the British & Irish Lions, when warming to their task in winning the last half-hour 10-0. Had they taken their chances, and the referee brandished the yellow card that might have come the Lions’ way, on another day, Japan could have made the scoreboard even closer too.

The impact made by their bench is partially reflected in the promotion of Kazuki Himeno, a try scorer last week, after his recent commitments with the Hurricanes in New Zealand, and 23-year-old scrumhalf Naoto Saito for his first Test start against the Lions.

That should give them more ballast and potentially more tempo from the start, while moving Kotaro Matsushima to the fullback position he operates at with Clermont ought to afford him even more licence to thrill and penetrate in equal measure.

The Fijian-born winger Semisi Masirewa also makes his debut but otherwise experimentation with an eye on the 2023 World Cup has been deferred. Joseph’s selection suggests Japan are targeting this game.

Japan’s coach maintains this will be a tougher game than the World Cup meeting when his highly-charged team had home advantage and the desire which came with being tournament hosts, on the premise that this will be a hungry Irish team, and at a venue where Ireland enjoy an 84-85 per cent winning home record.

Yet, even with the return of 3,000, the old Lansdowne Roar is substantially diluted. Admittedly, Ireland have won four of their five home games behind closed doors and will have some feelgood factor from having family and friends amongst the crowd for the first time since February last year.

Andy Farrell has also pulled tougher his strongest available selection, featuring a host of players who ought to be straining at the leash for this opportunity.

This still looks like a strong Irish team although it is a measure of the task facing them that they are a younger side than their opponents, with an average age of 26.7 compared to Japan’s 28.3.

A benchmark

The starting Irish team is even fractionally less experienced than the Brave Blossoms, averaging 23 caps per player – as against the 40 caps per man in the team which beat England 32-18 last time out. What’s more, the run-on XV average just 15 caps per player.

That marked the high point of the Farrell-Mike Catt attacking collaboration, with Ireland scoring a couple of superb tries which were the product of careful planning and off-the-cuff rugby. It set a benchmark which will admittedly be hard to replicate today given there have been so many changes and the team is coming into this fixture relatively cold.

Still, they look to have a good balance about them. The pack should have the capacity to lay a solid set-piece platform, what with Peter O’Mahony’s lineout ability, while Ronan Kelleher’s elevation alongside David Kilcoyne and the return of an in-form Caelan Doris ought to give them plenty of go-forward oomph.

That area of Ireland’s game is enhanced by the presence of Stuart McCloskey, who has been a consistently powerful go-to figure for Ulster all season, and Chris Farrell in midfield. If McCloskey can also free his arms in the tackle then, ala Doris, that could bring an offloading dimension to Ireland’s performance.

All in all, it’s great to see Joey Carbery back and it’s easy to believe he will be a key figure today. His comeback has been carefully managed by Munster and some of the old swagger has returned to his game, notably in his sixth and most recent start, albeit against Zebre.

Ireland are sure to be tested defensively and in a more inventive way than would be the case with most international sides. The Brave Blossoms began to find their unique groove in the final half-hour last week, with their fearless carrying into contact, quick recycling and their skillset, and the likelihood is they won’t take so long about doing so today.

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD); Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College), Chris Farrell (Munster/Young Munster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster/Lurgan); Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf), Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster); Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians), Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne), Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers), Ultan Dillane (Connacht/Corinthians), James Ryan (Leinster/UCD, capt), Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution), Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD), Caelan Doris (Leinster/UCD).

Replacements: Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch), Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD), John Ryan (Munster/Cork Constitution), Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University), Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster), Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon), Billy Burns (Ulster), Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Constitution).

JAPAN: Kotaro Matsushima; Semisi Masirewa, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Siosaia Fifita, Yu Tamura, Naoto Saito; Keita Inagaki, Atsushi Sakate, Jiwon Koo, Wimpie van der Walt, James Moore, Michael Leitch (captain), Lappies Labuschagné, Kazuki Himeno.

Replacements: Kosuke Horikoshi, Craig Millar, Asaeli Ai Valu, Jack Cornelson, Tevita Tatafu, Kaito Shigeno, Rikiya Matsuda, Shane Gates.

Referee: Karl Dickson (England)

Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Andrea Piardi (Italy)

TMO: Claire Hodnett (England)

Overall head to head: Played 8, Ireland 7 wins, Japan 1 win.

Betting (Paddy Powers): 1/4 Ireland, 22/1 Draw, 16/5 Japan.

Handicap odds (Japan + 10 pts) 10/11 Ireland, 22/1 Draw, 10/11 Japan.

Forecast: Ireland to win.

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