Rugby World Cup: Ireland enjoy splendid isolation as they prepare for Japan test
Remote hotel an ideal location for Schmidt and his squad to hone their game plan
Joe Schmidt: “We’re preparing for a team who are playing at home and will do so with real pride.” Photograph: Craig Mercer/Inpho
Away from the madding crowds, the Irish squad have based themselves in a quaintly Japanese version of Carton House.
Set in Fukuroi, 34km from Shizuoka Airport and 15km from Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, their remote hotel is a modern-day Japanese castle created and developed by the Yamaha Group.
Set in the mountains, it looks amazing in pictures, and Joe Schmidt is thus more than content.
“We’re out at the Katsuragi Hotel. It’s a country hotel, it’s a very traditional Japanese hotel and we’re quite isolated this week. So I think it’s probably ideal for us not to have too many distractions, to be the sole occupants of a little and very traditional Japanese hotel in the week that we’re playing Japan. It’s probably a little bit unique.”
It means the squad will be able to prepare for Saturday’s meeting against Japan in splendid isolation, and avoid the noise and hype that might have been the case had they been based in Shizuoka itself as the home supporters and the Irish fans converge on the city.
“Yeah, they will, and the one thing I would say is that I was talking to a couple of my brothers who were at the game yesterday, and a whole bunch of supporters who were there, and they said to me: ‘It must be great to play away and always play at home’.”
“As the Fields of Athenry was being pumped out, it felt like a home stadium in Yokohama so hopefully there will be a few Irish who get to Shizuoka and get to Ecopa Stadium and get behind us. But I’ve no doubt the Japanese will have the majority of support, being the home nation.”
The Kiwi influence on this World Cup is pronounced, with Schmidt and his Japanese counterpart, Jamie Joseph, being two of seven of the 20 head coaches who hail from New Zealand, along with a generous sprinkling of assistant coaches. The other head coaches from the Land of the Long White Cloud who will be in charge of teams in the Land of the Rising Sun at this tournament are Steve Jackson (Samoa), John McKee (Fiji), Milton Haig (Georgia) and Warren Gatland (Wales) as well, of course, as Steve Hansen.
One of Joseph’s assistants is Tony Brown, the former Highlanders and All Blacks outhalf turned head coach with the Highlanders, who also played in Japan for three years.
“I always thought he was a really good player, Tony Brown, and a super competitor,” said Schmidt. “I know his brother Cory as well. Obviously, he was in Connacht and he’s gone on and is doing a good job coaching in New Zealand.
“Tony Brown, when he was in Ireland – he actually came in and spent three days with us in the national set-up – and it wasn’t too long after that that we ended up playing against a Tony Brown-coached side, along with Jamie Joseph, in the 2017 summer tour,” added Schmidt in reference to Ireland’s tour here.
“I think he brings a real understanding of the game, a willingness to play, an encouragement to take a few risks but to be working hard enough on the skill base you have to be able to maximise the potential for those risks to have positive outcomes.
“Look, I think he’s a really good foil for Jamie, who’s a pretty hardnosed character and a top man and I think they’ve obviously done a terrific job with Japan based on the Pacific Nations Cup, and based on some of the really big performances they’ve put together.
“Y’know after 60 minutes – three quarters of the game – in Twickenham, they led 15-13 against a very good England side. It’s something we’ve got to take into consideration while we’re preparing for a team who are playing at home and will do so with real pride.”