Rugby World Cup: Five turning points in Ireland’s loss to Japan

Poor set pieces, no impact from the bench and lack of precision haunt Ireland

Japan’s tempo leaves Ireland floundering

Ireland struggled with conditions and were hurt by the high tempo game Japan played. From the outset the Irish players struggled to contain Japanese energy levels. The home side's decision to run the ball from anywhere outside their own 22 was inspired and drew Ireland into a game of repeat tackling in extreme humidity. In that respect the six-day turn around mitigated against Ireland. Japan had eight days to recover from their first match against Russia or around 25 per cent longer. It's a World Cup and that happens. But in this instance and because of the way the Japanese team played and kept the ball alive whenever they could, the shorter turn around did not help Ireland, who looked as though they were tiring from late in the first half.

Ireland’s bench falls short

The bench was going to be important to inject energy and new legs into the Irish effort. The idea of a bench team is to make an impact and change a game that might be slipping away or steady a game that is not in control or just to change things up. The Irish bench had no impact, although for a while outhalf Joey Carbery and Murray did get ball moving forward late in the second half as Ireland fleetingly managed to put some shape and control on the game inside the Japanese 22. But Ireland lost the second half against the Tier 2 nation ranked 9th in the world having started it with a 9-12 lead. The bench made no impression with Carbery hastily kicking to touch at the end to save the losing bonus point illustrating Irish desperation.

Scrappy set pieces

The Irish set piece buckled at pressure points, in the scrum and lineout. Three examples. On 31 minutes a Rory Best overthrow at the halfway line lands at the hands of the Japanese hooker Shota Horie, who launches a Japanese attack into the Irish 22. Eight passes later Conor Murray goes off his feet and is penalised. Japan earn a penalty and a free shot and it's 6-12. On 33 minutes Japan knock on defending on their 22. Scrum Ireland and a perfect offensive position, attacking options both sides. Big moment. But Japan put on a push and drive through, the referee immediately blowing for a Japanese penalty. On 50 minutes Ireland earn an attacking lineout. It's still 9-12. This time it's an under throw from the Irish hooker and another opportunity slips by Ireland.

Ireland’s scoreboard stalls

The old adage in most sports is to try and keep the scoreboard turning over. If it just three points take them and as time moves on the points slowly aggregate. The team that successfully does that eventually builds towards a healthy score. Ireland did not score any points after the 21st minute, when Jack Carty converted Rob Kearney's try to give Ireland a 3-12 lead. In a match where margins were fine, it was imperative that Ireland put something on the scoreboard. It reflected a real lack of control with the ball and when there was some control a lack of creative spark in the face of ferocious Japanese defending. But the scoreboard never moved and that was disheartening.


Precision gives way to slopiness

Joe Schmidt's big thing is precision and when Ireland needed some it just wasn't there. Because of that controlled possession was beyond Ireland's reach. A few examples came late in the game as Ireland pressed for a try 16-12 down. After eight phases with Ireland aggressively pushing forward and under the Japanese posts Irish lock James Ryan becomes isolated with at least three Japanese bodies over him and no green shirts. Penalty Japan. After 77 minutes Ireland are again desperately pressing forward and go through 15 phases. The ball is again recycled through Carbey to Jordan Larmour. His pass is intercepted by Kenki Fukuoka and had Ireland not had the pace of Keith Earls to chase him down it was a converted try to Japan under the posts.