Ireland are the first tier one casualty to suffer at the hands of a tier two nation in this year’s edition of the Rugby World Cup with Japan coming from nine points behind to win.
Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney scored tries while a Jack Carty conversion had Ireland’s points wrapped up within 22 minutes.
Ringrose provided Ireland with the perfect start, picking a Carty cross kick out of the air and crossing in the corner with just 14 minutes on the clock.
Japan burst out of the blocks, clearly up for the task when Kotaro Matshushima almost scored but for a lucky bounce of the ball for Ireland. The frantic start proved decisive as Japan inched their way back into the game and eventually took the lead, for good by capitalising on Ireland’s tiredness.
Influential playmaker, Yu Tamura, got his side on the board with a penalty before Rob Kearney was the second player to take advantage of a Carty kick and score Ireland’s second try.
With the score 12-6 in Ireland’s favour a monster scrum from Japan with five minutes swung the momentum for the home side and Ireland were never able to recover. Tamura slotted his third kick of the half bringing the deficit to just three points.
The hosts forced Ireland to make a lot of tackles in the first half and had 58% of the possession and, coupled with the humidity in Shizuoku breathed life back into Pool A.
For Ireland Carty’s conversion on 22 minutes would be all that was written on the Irish score sheet for this match. Up until then, everything was going according to plan. Japan were looking dangerous but had not troubled the Irish line with exception to Matshushima’s opportunity.
What lost this game for Ireland was the inability to control the tempo of the game which led to a deterioration in fitness levels. It was always played at a pace slightly faster than what Ireland are used to playing on a regular basis and, coupled with the humid conditions, led to a dramatic wane in performance in the second half.
Japan capitalised on Ireland’s tiredness shortly before the hour mark. Originally not named in the panel to face Ireland, Kenki Fukuoka came off the bench to rapturous applause only topped by the one we received after scoring the winning try.
Mistakes compounded a poor performance with solitary runners getting pinged for holding on as well as inaccurate set plays leading to accidental offside which gave Japan possession in the build up to Fukuoka’s try. Silly errors prevented Ireland from getting to within striking range of their opposition.
Tamura made it a seven point match, effectively sealing the game with a 71st minute penalty, as Ireland never looked like scoring a try in the second half.
Where now for Ireland?
Despite losing to Japan in 2015, South Africa went on to finish third in the World Cup so hope is not all lost. Confidence will have taken a massive dent in the aftermath so it will be up to Joe Schmidt to keep them focused.
It blows the pool right open with the possibility of Japan, Scotland and Ireland finishing with three wins and a defeat. Samoa could also throw themselves into the reckoning with their abrasive forwards however I think all three teams will have enough fire power to see them off.
Ireland were poor against Japan but are by no means out of the running for topping the group. However it is likely that it will go to the wire with bonus points becoming crucial.