Ireland roll with the punches to come out on top against Japanese flair

High-scoring match saw lead change hands seven times as visitors didn’t back down

Ireland’s Stuart McCloskey scores a try during the win over Japan. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Ireland’s Stuart McCloskey scores a try during the win over Japan. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho


Ireland 39 Japan 31

Ireland had to roll with the punches against a typically vibrant Japan and, after the lead exchanged hands seven times, to emerge with a hard-earned win was creditable - which tells you how far the Brave Blossoms have travelled in recent times.

Running the ball from pretty much anywhere and everywhere, and regularly finding grass with their inventive kicking game, Japan scored four sumptuous tries and had another chalked off when Yu Tamura’s pass to his kindred spirit Timothy Lafaele was a fraction forward, albeit it had no material effect on the latter’s clean break to score under the posts.

This had followed one of Tamura’s deft cross kicks into space for Siosaia Fifita whereupon the Brave Blossoms dragged the Irish defence back and forth at their normal rapid fire tempo to dizzying effect.

Tamura also hit the upright with a first half penalty at the end of which, by rights, Japan could and should have been a couple of scores ahead. Tries off a lineout drive (even that was done at high speed) and a fine finish by Lafaele after Tamura had again found space were the least they deserved.

The 32-year-old Tamura put on a masterclass. His alert blindside snipe off a ruck soon after the resumption was one thing, but the manner he caressed the ball with the outside of his right boot and grubber infield for Fifita to gather, score and put Japan ahead for a fourth time, was quite another.

Despite losing Kotaro Matsushima, the Brave Blossoms stayed in the fight when manufacturing a 70 metre counter-attack for scrumhalf Naoto Saito, who looks a find, albeit he gave away a couple of silly penalties. Snappy scrumhalves with a lightening quick service are the lifeblood of Japan’s game.

In truth, with a little better game management from Tamura and Matsushima toward the end of the first period rather than running the ball from inside their 22, they wouldn’t have conceded the route one try finished off by Finlay Bealham with the last play of the half. But Japan are hell bent on further sharpening their distinctive brand of rugby.

Ireland did manufacture one superb counter-attacking try, Joey Carbery regathering his own chip and after Caelan Doris and Hugo Keenan combined to pierce the Japanese defence, Stuart McCloskey scored adroitly in the corner from Peter O’Mahony’s offload.

For the most part Ireland weren’t always as pretty but their directness was every bit as effective. Once they had their lineout working after three first-half malfunctions they were able to unleash some well-crafted launch plays usually using Doris, Ronan Kelleher, McCloskey and Chris Farrell, and these led to three of their five tries.

As well as the lineout and restarts, Ireland also used the interval to up their line speed and improve their one-on-one tackling.

“I will look at the positives because if you look at the bigger picture it was a big win, for this group to have so many setbacks against them and to ride those setbacks and keep getting back on the horse,” said Andy Farrell.

“I thought actually we would have been in trouble if we didn’t stay in the game. If they got a couple of scores in front the game could have changed its course, but we hung tough and we managed to stay calm and controlled and fight our way back in the game, and that told in the end.

“On the back of that our game management was pretty good in the last 20 minutes and got us over the line.

“You’re always disappointed. I think we had 14 missed tackles in the first half and we addressed that. I thought physically, Japan put it into us in the first half and because of compounding errors we allowed them into the game and kept them giving a piggy back. But I thought we dusted ourselves down pretty well at half time and took the game to Japan and deserved to win in the end.”

Farrell is not normally inclined to single out individuals, but made an exception after this game, beginning with man of the match Josh van der Flier.

“I thought he was immense. He played unbelievably big and it looked like he had a point to prove, and I think he proved it really. That’s first and foremost,” said Farrell, before hailing the influence of James Ryan as captain.

“He hasn’t done much training this week but I thought certainly in the last 20 minutes, when the game had to be won, he stepped up and certainly led from the front. I thought he was a tower of strength.

“I thought Hugo Keenan was immense at the back again. He’s pushed himself forward to the leadership group and he’s certainly got potential in that role in the future. He was unbelievably solid and proves his point every single time he takes to the international role.

“Ryan Baird came on and was full of energy. I thought Rónan (Kelleher), barring one or two things, looked very powerful, very explosive and was very controlled in how he went about his game. So there were plenty which was great for us.”

Scoring sequence: 3 mins Tamura pen 0-3; 8 mins Farrell try, Carbery con 7-3; 11 mins Leitch try, Tamura con 7-10; 27 mins McCloskey try 12-10; 36 mins Lafaele try, Tamura con 12-17; 40 (+2) mins Bealham try, Carbery con 19-17; (half-time 19-17); 43 mins Fifita try, Tamura con 19-24; 49 mins van der Flier try, Carbery con 26-24; 52 mins Stockdale try, Carbery con 33-24; 59 mins Saito try, Tamura con 33-31; 62 mins Carbery pen 36-31; 69 mins Carbery pen 39-31.

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: Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Constitution) for Larmour (31 mins), Billy Burns (Ulster) for Farrell (43 mins), Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD) for Kilcoyne, John Ryan (Munster/Cork Constitution) for Bealham (both 59 mins), Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) for Dillane (60 mins), Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) for Kelleher, Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) for O’Mahony (both 71 mins), Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) for Gibson-Park (79 mins).

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, Tevita Tatafu.

Replacements: Craig Millar for Inagaki, Asaeli Ai Valu, Jack Cornelson for van der Walt, Shane Gates for Matsushima (all 51 mins), Amanaki Mafi for Tatafu (54 mins), Kosuke Horikoshi for Sakate (62 mins), Kaito Shigeno for Saito, Rikiya Matsuda for Tamura (both 67 mins).

Referee: Karl Dickson (England).

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