Ireland make light work of Japan but All Blacks are a different beast

There was thrilling attacking and solid defence but all will have to be perfect next week

Ireland 60 Japan 5

Early in the second-half at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, having long since sealed the game by accumulating a 29-0 interval lead, Ireland worked one of their nice strike plays off another potent lineout maul.

As with Andrew Conway’s second try in the first half, Bundee Aki pulled the ball back for Johnny Sexton to have a three-on-one to his outside. He skipped Conway but Keenan couldn’t hold the high pass.

Sexton appeared to apologise. Well, kind of, for he also indicated to the Irish fullback that he should have drifted out rather than hold his straight line. Sexton was right too. Had Keenan changed his running line it was either a try for him or a routine run-in for James Lowe, as Keenan had provided for Conway’s second try with a long left-to-right pass.


The point being, of course, who is going to assume that mantle when Sexton is no longer there? Most likely, it will have to be shared, for as well as what he provides as the team’s world-class orchestrator and goalkicker, Sexton is the standard driver.

Within six minutes Keenan’s superbly executed 50:22 kick had earned Ireland an attacking lineout. Rónan Kelleher’s pinpoint throw was claimed by James Ryan under pressure at the tail and when Jamison Gibson-Park sniped blind off another catch-and-drive, Sexton had worked around to beat Yutaka Nagare’s tackle and score his 15th Test try.

Sexton is often portrayed as not only an exacting character, but a scowling and angry one as well, which is unfair really, for he is an engaging, intelligent and humorous personality most of the time.

In any event he felt the love from his teammates and the crowd in those moments as each of his 14 teammates enveloped him in a football-like celebration before revealing a softer side in the post-match interviews.

For all-round quality, the pick of the nine tries, by common consent, was the second in the 11th minute. It originated in one of three clean takes in the air by Andrew Conway when gathering a box kick by Yutaka Nagare on the right touchline.

Pretty much everyone contributed to a thrilling team try as Ireland generated quick ball off strong carries by Josh van der Flier and Bundee Aki - a prime example then being Andrew Porter’s cleanout to ensue silver salver ball for Jamison Gibson-Park.

James Lowe kept the move alive centimetres from the left touchline before offloading inside for Gibson-Park who provided a typically sharp link with Ringrose. All that was good, but even better followed.

There surely can’t have been a more skilful, playmaking tighthead in the game than Tadhg Furlong, as evidenced by his no-look pass which, coupled with Caelan Doris’ decoy run, took out three defenders for Sexton to go through the gap. This sparked a passage of offloads and straight support lines by van der Flier, Beirne and Aki, before Gibson-Park’s well weighted diagonal grubber saw the ball eventually go all the way back to Conway for the first of his hat-trick.

Paul O’Connell had spoken on Friday of the new breed of Irish players, such is their handling skills and athleticism. The starting pack, with all eight between 23- and 29-years-old and an average of 26, had a tasty, strikingly dynamic look to it and were a case in point en bloc.

All are comfortable on the ball and much of the rugby Ireland played, especially in the first 55 minutes and particularly in that second try, seemed to epitomise what O’Connell was talking about.

Word is that the standard in training has been very high, and for a first outing of the season and such relatively little game time under their belts provincially, Ireland looked like a very well coached team. There were four lost lineouts but there were many varied levels to this performance, and one of the most striking was the animation, work-rate and options off the ball.

In any case, Farrell believes there is plenty more to come too.

“There’s certainly a lot of room for improvement. We drill them hard, day in, day out on the skill aspects of the game and I suppose we saw a little bit of that. But again, like I said, unless we get the gainline dominance and the ability to play square and punch onto balls and have excellent rucking on the back of that, then we’re not able to roll forward as we want to.

“But we managed to do that today. We managed to be calm enough and not frantic within our decision-making and it helped us play the game that we wanted to play.”

As much as Farrell enjoyed the 60 part of the scoreline, the former defensive coach enjoyed the 5 even more, maintaining:

“I thought our defence was the best part of our game.”

This was epitomised by one of several good reads by Garry Ringrose to stymie an elaborate Japanese strike play off a long throw with a big hit on Timothy Lafaele.

From the ensuing penalty Ireland went up the line and launched their own lineout play through Aki up the middle - Doris making the clearout - before Ringrose first put his shoulder to the wheel when Sexton carried into contact and then sniped off the base to give the try-scoring offload inside to Gibson-Park.

This landmark fixture - Sexton’s century, Furlong’s 50th Irish Test, Dan Sheehan’s first and the return of proper crowds - had felt like the ideal warm-up for facing the All Blacks given the Brave Blossoms’ ambitious brand of rugby, but perhaps less so in light of such a commanding win.

The Brave Blossoms brought negligible line speed to their defence or oomph to their tackling, which most certainly will not be the case next week.

Still, as the feel of good days go, this felt very good.

Scoring sequence: 4 mins Lowe try, Sexton con 7-0; 11 mins Conway try, Sexton con 14-0; 19 mins Conway try 19-0; 23 mins Sexton pen 22-0; 34 mins Gibson-Park try, Sexton con 29-0; (half-time 29-0); 51 mins Sexton try and con 36-0; 55 Aki try 41-0; 57 mins Fifita try 41-5; 70 mins Ringrose try, Carbery con 48-5; 74 mins Conway try 53-5; Healy try, Carbery con 60-5.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD); Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen), Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD), Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians), James Lowe (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary's College, capt), Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD), Rónan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf); Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne), James Ryan (Leinster/UCD); Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary's College), Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD), Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere).

Replacements: Peter O'Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) for van der Flier (51 mins), Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) for Kelleher, Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) for Porter, Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) for Furlong (all 55 mins), Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) for Beirne, Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) for Gibson-Park (both 58 mins), Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) for Sexton (62 mins), Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) for Aki (67 mins).

Japan: Kotaro Matsushima (Clermont Auvergne); Dylan Riley SaitamaWild Knights), Timothy Lafaele (Kobe Steelers), Ryoto Nakamura (Tokyo Sungoliath), Siosaia Fifita (Hanazono Kintetsu Liners); Yu Tamura (Yokohama Eagles), Yutaka Nagare (Tokyo Sungoliath); Keita Inagaki (Saitama Wild Knights), Atsushi Sakate (Saitama Wild Knights), Jiwon Koo (Kobe Steelers); Jack Cornelsen (Saitama Wild Knights), James Moore (Tokyo Bay Urayasu); Ben Gunter (Saitama Wild Knights), Pieter Labuschagne (Kubota Spears, capt), Kazuki Himeno (Toyota Verblitz).

Replacements: Yoshitaka Tokunaga (Toshiba Brave Lupus) for Gunter (27 mins), Ryohei Yamanaka (Kobe Steelers) for Laffaele (39-40 mins), for Nakamura (55-67 mins) and for Laffaele (67 mins), Yusuke Niwai (Yokohama Eagles) for Tamura (40-50 mins) and for Sakate (64 mins), Craig Millar (Saitama Wild Knights) for Inagaki, Asaeli Ai Valu (Saitama Wild Knights) for Koo (both 42 mins), Naoto Saito (Tokyo Sungoliath) for Nagare, Rikiya Matsuda (Saitama Wild Knights) for Tamura, (both 55 mins), Tevita Tatafu (Tokyo Sungoliath) for Tokunaga (59 mins),

Sinbinned: Sakate (40-50 mins).

Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia).