Ireland 15 Japan 12
Ciara Griffin was thrilled to end her international career on a winning note at the RDS on Saturday when the blindside flanker’s brace of second half tries inspired Ireland to victory over Japan in a women’s international Test.
Staring into a 12-3 interval deficit - and with just 14 players at their disposal following the dismissal of Hannah O’Connor - it looked set to be a disappointing footnote to a distinguished Irish career for the retiring Griffin. However, the Kerry native took the game by the scruff of the neck on the resumption and ensured her side enjoyed a positive ending to a turbulent 2021.
“It was a mix of everything, we dug in and got the result we wanted. We acknowledged we needed to improve at half-time. We put in a complete performance and ground out the win,” Griffin remarked in her final post-match press conference as Ireland captain.
“Everyone knows I wear my heart on my sleeve. It was my last time playing for my country and it’s emotional. It stands out. It caught me during the anthems, but it was enjoyable. It was everything the jersey is about, I relished that moment. It was a lovely way to go out too. Players fighting for each other, backs against the wall. I get a lot of solace from that.”
Lesley McKenzie’s visitors had threatened to spoil Griffin’s farewell during the opening period, with Mana Furuta and Seina Saito crossing the whitewash either side of O’Connor being red-carded for a dangerous challenge on Nijiho Nagata in the 29th-minute.
An early penalty by outhalf Enya Breen was the only score Ireland could muster before the break, but they were a rejuvenated force after the play resumed in the Ballsbridge venue. The determined Griffin forced the hosts back into the reckoning by charging down Kanako Kobayashi’s attempted clearance before grounding just shy of the deadball line.
She subsequently edged her troops in front with a powerful finish over the line on 55 minutes and while the Japanese ramped up the pressure in the closing moments of the action, Ireland held out for a second autumn international win in the space of eight days.
In a similar vein to Griffin, this game brought the curtain down on Adam Griggs’ reign as Irish head coach.
Although his tenure will ultimately be defined by their failure to qualify for next year’s World Cup, the departing Griggs believes the past couple of weeks has put this Ireland squad in a good position to move forward under his successor Greg McWilliams.
“For the last four or five weeks we spoke about just facilitating the group and letting the group as players and individuals have internal motivation of what they wanted to get out of this block and how they wanted to perform for Greg coming in,” Griggs said.
“Hopefully this has given him a solid foundation to push these players on. We spoke at the end that there is still so much more potential in the group and it’s just about trying to knuckle down and push on.”
Scorers - Ireland: C Griffin 2 tries, E Breen pen, con. Japan: S Saito, M Furuta try each, A Otsuka con.
Ireland: L Delany; A Doyle, E Considine, S Naoupu, L Sheehan; E Breen, K Dane; L Feely, N Jones, L Djougang; A McDermott, S Monaghan; C Griffin, E McMahon, H O'Connor. Replacements: K O'Dwyer for Feely, C Moloney for Jones, both 46 mins; S Touhey for Doyle, A Caplice for McMahon, both 65 mins.
Japan: R Anoku; H Nagura, M Furuta, K Kobayashi, K Imakugi; A Otsuka, M Tsukui; S Kato, N Nagata, M Lavemai; K Tamai, O Yoshimura; S Saito, M Suzuki, A Nagai. Replacements: W Kitano for Yoshimura, M Abe for Tsukui, both h-t; S Minami for Lavemai, 46 mins; I Nagata for Nagai, 50 mins; M Yamamoto for Otsuka, 55 mins; Y Ito for Suzuki, 59 mins; A Kokaji for N Nagata, 74 mins.
Referee: C Munarini (Italy).