Tony Brown stresses Japan’s need for speed against Ireland

Brave Blossoms’ assistant says hosts’ greatest opportunities will be Irish mistakes

Japan wing Lomano Lemeki put his head on the block when calling Saturday’s game against Ireland. “I think we’ll win 33-26.” Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

Japan wing Lomano Lemeki put his head on the block when calling Saturday’s game against Ireland. “I think we’ll win 33-26.” Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

 

The presumption, after Fiji failed to finish off Australia, was that there would be no alarms and no surprises at this World Cup.

That was punctured by Uruguay catching Fiji cold in Kamaishi.

Nobody saw that coming but rugby’s great entertainers were screwed on two counts. First by the officials – Reece Hodge’s three-game ban is of no use to them now – and then the schedule with a cruel four-day turnaround and 745 kilometres to travel, as the jewel in every other major national and club team’s crown (Fijians) have suffered the same way Japan did in 2015.

The tournament powers on – with plenty of Fijian-born magicians from Wallaby duo Tevita Kuridrani and Marika Koroibete, New Zealand’s Sevu Reece, France’s Virimi Vakatawa, and England’s Joe Cokanasiga – primed to scorch grass in the coming weeks.

Speaking of shocks, Japan’s Lomano Lemeki – a Tongan Sevens expert born in Auckland – put his head on the block when calling Saturday’s game against Ireland at the Ecopa stadium.

“I think we’ll win 33-26.”

What! Why? How?

“Because we train hard, and Sexton is not 100 per cent.”

There you go (has he not learned from Stuart Hogg’s “winning the World Cup” promises back-firing spectacularly?), the word is out and about on Johnny Sexton’s thigh injury.

Japan are gunning for Ireland safe in the knowledge that reaching their first quarter-final will almost certainly come down to the Scotland game in Yokohama on October 13th.

Tactical super-brain

If the hosts do shock the world on Saturday, like they did when Eddie Jones masterminded victory over the Springboks four years ago, then Tony Brown will be seen as the tactical super-brain behind them.

“I’ve just got a question for you guys,” said Brown in Japan’s team hotel in Hamamatsu. “I watched the game last night, Samoa against Russia. I saw two brutal tackles that should have been red cards and the punch to the head that didn’t get noticed. Has anyone heard any feedback around what’s happening there?”

Tony Brown pointed to Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton being central to how Ireland play, and win. Photograph: Dianne Manson/Getty Images
Tony Brown pointed to Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton being central to how Ireland play, and win. Photograph: Dianne Manson/Getty Images

The feedback came later in the day with Samoa centre Rey Lee-Lo and hooker Motu Matu’u cited for acts of foul play contrary to Law 9.13 (dangerous high tackle). However, winger Ed Fidow only received a “citing commissioner warning” for the punch.

Brown has been repeatedly written up as Joe Schmidt 2.0. The former All Black outhalf is 10 years younger and already treasured by the New Zealand system where he draws up the offence for the Otago Highlanders.

Leinster were keen to secure him as Matt O’Connor’s replacement, when the Australian was sacked in the summer of 2015, but when that deal didn’t happen they promoted Leo Cullen before turning to Stuart Lancaster.

Brown ended up where he currently sits, as Jamie Joseph’s number two.

“I haven’t worked with Joe, but obviously he’s one of the best coaches in the world. I think we have very similar philosophies around how we try to play the game,” said Brown, further feeding the narrative.

Enough good things

“He’s got Ireland playing the best rugby they’ve ever played in their history. They’ve achieved many things under Joe so I can’t say enough good things about Joe Schmidt as a coach. So it’s a good challenge for Japan to take on someone with that coaching style and the way Ireland are playing the game.

“I think it’s going to be an entertaining match because I think we have similar philosophies.”

That philosophy would be to hoard the leather and ruck like robots until a score is delivered.

“They hold the ball more than anyone else in international rugby,” said Brown, “so being good defensively and creating opportunities to get turnover ball is going to be huge for us.

“It’s no different around our philosophy, we’ve got to defend well, make sure we tackle well, and when the chance arises to compete for the ball make sure we do that. And when they make mistakes that’s our opportunity to hold position and hopefully put them under pressure.”

Brown pointed to Conor Murray and Sexton being central to how Ireland play, and win. “They control their game, they control their position and their speed so putting them under pressure is potentially going to be the start of how we slow them down.

“For us to be able to put Ireland under pressure we need to create speed in our game. The only way to break down defences is if you’re creating momentum and speed and that’s our plan around attacking Ireland so hopefully that’s going to work.”

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