Josh van der Flier excited to pit himself against the All Blacks

Ireland player pays tribute to captain and teammate Johnny Sexton after special day

Content and context sit side by side in evaluating Ireland’s thoroughly entertaining 60-5 victory before an appreciative crowd at the Aviva Stadium.

The occasion of Jonathan Sexton's 100th cap, Tadhg Furlong's 50th and Dan Sheehan's first was a celebratory affair particularly in tone. There was plenty to admire in the manner in which Ireland prised apart Japan on foot of a high tempo, expansive game that lent a certain razzle dazzle air to the rugby. Few are immune to the delights of fast-twitch passing.

Offloading, tip-on passes, that lovely variety to playing through the front carriers or pirouetting to pass out the back, the clever use and positioning of James Lowe, offered ideal accoutrements to more prosaic qualities like a well-crafted lineout maul or a slide rule grubber kick in a performance that was easy to enjoy.

The intent was there from the get-go, the fine tuning and co-ordination took about five minutes from the opening whistle as the Irish players quickly understood the value of too much haste resulting in less speed. But, for the most part, Ireland played with brisk authority and assurance and reaped the rewards for that enterprise. That’s a nod to the general content that facilitated Ireland’s win.


The context of the victory requires an examination of Japan's performance which head coach Jamie Joseph stated was very disappointing. Three times they missed penalty kicks to touch when presented with easy access to Ireland's 22, the lineout misfired regularly and they conceded too many penalties.

Run ragged

Missing a few frontline players didn’t help a cause in which the playing platform collapsed around them. Japan got to appreciate what it’s like to be run ragged. Ireland scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park was key to maintaining a high pace to the patterns, facilitated by good ball presentation and ruck speed. He must have been on the shortlist for man of the match.

On the flip side, while acknowledging the nine tries, Farrell expressed his delight at Ireland's performance in defence, something that they'll need to take forward to the much stiffer challenge that awaits when New Zealand rock up on Saturday.

Ireland managed to slow the Japanese ball thereby diluting the essence of what makes them such a dangerous team and in that respect the Irish pack to a man had a significant impact. Spokesperson and harasser-in-chief Josh van der Flier said: “I suppose we did a lot of hard work up front, we started off quite physical, quite direct, and then it kind of gave us opportunities.

“So a huge part of our game-plan was to try and shut down their attack and we ended up getting the ball back a good bit within three or four phases. That’s a compliment to some good poachers and good tacklers, and a combination of all that pressure on them.

“It was very pleasing but New Zealand will definitely pose a different challenge. I’m sure there will be things in video that we’ll look back at and say ‘If we do that against New Zealand, we’ll be punished.’ Overall I thought our defence was one of the most pleasing elements.

“It's not as glamorous as the tries we scored, but it was really pleasing to keep them to five points. We conceded 31 points against them the last time, and especially against New Zealand, defence will have to be on top.”

It wasn’t all coalface graft for van der Flier as he played a part in the build-up to Andrew Conway’s second try of three. He admitted: “Normally as a seven, depending on who you are playing against, you generally have quite a lot of defensive involvements.

“It’s just the nature of the position, but then sometimes it can be hard to get into the game in the attack, other than hitting rucks and running support lines, so it’s been something I’ve been very conscious of, trying to get more carries.

“The line-break you mentioned, that was brilliant from Johnny (Sexton), he kind of drew the guy who was going to be marking me in, and left me in open space.”

Personal memory

And in mentioning his captain and Ireland’s latest centurion, van der Flier was asked for a personal memory about how Sexton has influenced him as a player.

“(It’s) his attention to detail, his competitiveness. I’ve worked on defence in lineouts and we speak quite a lot and at this stage I know what he likes and doesn’t like. But also in attack, his understanding of how to manipulate defenders and create attacking shape is definitely something he has taught me a lot about. Also (it’s) his day-to-day drive to be better and to be competitive. That winning mentality is something I’ve definitely learned about.

“We had a nice ceremony a couple of days ago and it was very emotional when the jerseys were being handed out (by Paul O’Connell). It was special to be a part of it. I’ve looked up to Johnny since I was a kid, maybe not so little, it makes him feel old.

“He drives the standards for everyone and we’re all grateful to him for how good he makes the teams he is in and the players around him. It was nice to make it special for him and you could see what we all thought of him when he scored that try and everyone was piled up on top of him. It was a very special feeling and I’m glad we could make it a special day for him.”