Joe Schmidt turns to Luke McGrath and Dan Leavy for Japan
Leinster scrumhalf makes his first international start along with Conway and Scannell
Dan Leavy: threatening to become Europe’s king of the breakdown. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Japan v Ireland
Venue: Ecopa stadium, Shizuoka.
Kick off: 6am.
TV: eir Sport.
Joe Schmidt sides are never random lineups. Don’t believe otherwise. He didn’t run the rule over Thursday’s solitary session, before the summer tour begins proper tomorrow morning, and decide to put Josh van der Flier on ice.
Or give Luke McGrath a go.
Every move, every decision is premeditated. Every call has been teased out months in advance or, at the very least, during that pre-gathering Carton House session before the New Jersey week.
Schmidt knew his hand was severely weakened this week by the inhumane trek from New York to Tokyo, where they drew breath, did a Tuesday walk through, a little local media (when Kieran Marion and van der Flier were presented as starters), rising early Wednesday to visit separate sumo stables, and the horror of it all, before a full Thursday session was followed by a 260 kilometre journey to base two in Hamamatsu.
The seemingly certain openside and first choice scrumhalf, in Conor Murray’s absence, were flung under the bright lights. That may have forced Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown to readjust their analysis of Ireland. It means they need to see how Luke McGrath went about nailing down the nine jersey at Leinster this season, and how Dan Leavy is threatening to become Europe’s king of the breakdown (see the regular season Pro 12 tussle with Justin Tipuric, and impact off the bench against England).
Providing Quinn Roux and Rhys Ruddock do not come unstuck – a concern in itself considering both men’s torrid injury profiles – while Jack Conan, Niall Scannell and Cian Healy build upon last Saturday’s physicality against America then Japan’s Pacific Islander power surge can be contained.
Amanaki Mafi must be put to ground and Leavy needs to dominate Michael Leitch over the ball.
If not, Fumiaki Tanaka will build a head-spinning tempo and the early risers back home will not be rewarded with the sight of a razor-sharp Irish backline slicing up the Brave Blossoms in sweltering conditions.
This should be a fun. Super fast. Keith Earls has been magnificent of late, Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo not bad either; all three combined for a magical try in the Pro 12 semi-final.
Paddy Jackson will find them, if provided any sort of platform. His passing range went up a level this year.
Rory Scannell has earned a run at 12, another making his first start in a senior green jersey, after a fine campaign with Munster as an all Leinster/Munster backline, besides Jackson, should be able to manage the Kiwi centres.
The Ulster man was described this week by kicking coach Richie Murphy as a growing leader in the squad. Jackson’s in total control here.
Luke McGrath instinctively leads any team he plays for but the 25-year-old outhalf has 23 caps, seven of his last 10 being starts, and must show Joey Carbery, among others, how a Test 10 gets the job done.
The bench seems uninspiring but no better moment for Jack O’Donoghue to address a dip in provincial form that ruled him out of Munster’s match day squad for the Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Saracens.
Kieran Treadwell has the physique, does he have the steel? Same goes for Roux. Schmidt seems to think so, continually going back to the South African lock, despite an injury-ravaged five years in Dublin and now Galway.
“I think any player that gets picked owes it to the coach to perform,” said Roux. “That’s what you need to do if you want to play again. Joe has backed me and I think I have played well in the two games for Ireland.”
The first was in his native South Africa last summer, the losing second Test, and last Saturday’s for 60 minutes under the New Jersey sun.
“I need to build on that and take it up to another level.”
Off you go so.
IRELAND: S Zebo; A Conway, G Ringrose, R Scannell, K Earls; P Jackson, L McGrath; C Healy, N Scannell, J Ryan; Q Roux, D Toner; R Ruddock (capt), D Leavy, J Conan. Replacements: J Tracy, D Kilcoyne, F Bealham, K Treadwell, J O’Donoghue, K Marmion, R O’Loughlin, T O’Halloran.
JAPAN: R Noguchi; K Matsushima, W Tupou, T Lafaele, K Fukuoka; U Tamura, F Tanaka; K Inagaki, S Horie, H Ito; K Yatabe, U Helu; M Leitch (capt), Y Tokanuga, A Mafi. Replacements: Y Niwai, S Ishihara, T Asahara, H Tui, S Matsuhashi, Y Nagare, D Carpenter, R Matsuda.
Referee: M van der Westhuizen (South Africa).
Betting: Japan (+14) 10/11. Ireland (-14) 10/11.
Verdict: Ireland win.