Having swept aside Scotland with relative ease, Ireland now face hosts Japan in what will be an atmospheric occasion in Shizuoka. Kick off is at 08:15 (UK/IRE).
Joe Schmidt has made four changes to the side, all of which come in the backline: Jack Carty replaces Johnny Sexton at out half, Chris Farrell starts at inside centre while Keith Earls and Rob Kearney are recalled to the right wing and fullback respectively.
Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale retain their starting berths with Best set to become the second Irish player to make 100 international starts. Iain Henderson will win his 50th cap alongside James Ryan in the second row.
Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong join Rory Best in the front row. With Henderson and Ryan at lock, there will be no short of dynamism in the pack especially after both put in tremendous shifts against Scotland. Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander start in Ireland’s back row.
Conor Murray joins Carty at half back while Garry Ringrose is named at outside centre alongside Chris Farrell. Stockdale is the only member of the Irish back three which was so effective last week to retain his spot. Jordan Larmour drops to the bench while Andrew Conway fails to make the match-day squad. Earls and Kearney return to the 15 after recovering from injuries.
The prospect of playing the hosts brings its own challenges. Scotland were touted as Ireland’s rivals when the pools were drawn but Townsend’s men went down without firing a shot, handing Ireland the momentum to secure top spot in the pool. Ever since defeating South Africa in the last World Cup, Japan have been on an upward trajectory.
Eddie Jones guided Japan to that victory before passing the reigns to former Highlanders and New Zealand Maori coach, Jamie Joseph. In his three years in charge, Joseph’s Japan drew a series with Italy in 2018 a draw with France and then a Pacific Nations Cup (PNC) win last month. Japan were in the standout side in that tournament, defeating Fiji, Tonga and USA on the way to the title.
Stand out players include Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matshusima. Both scored three tries during the PNC while the latter kicked the World Cup off with a bang, scoring Japan’s first ever World Cup hat trick against Russia. Fukuoka misses out on selection for the match due to injury.
However they welcome back the talented Amanaki Mafi to the back row with Kazuki Himeno moving to blindside flanker. Their captain, Michael Leitch drops to the bench, but his arrival onto the pitch in the second half will galvanise the side, especially if they’ve the momentum. Mafi and Himeno are excellent ball carriers and are not afraid to free the arms and offload.
Japan have an attractive brand of rugby that’s based on scoring more tries than the opposition. They led the way with 14 in the PNC before notching another four against Russia last Friday. Their helter-skelter idea of throwing the ball about, mixed with some insanely quick and powerful players always leads to an exciting game but can be their downfall at times as demonstrated by their heavy defeat against the Springboks earlier this month.
As Ireland prefer a slower game and like to control proceedings, I don’t think Joe Schmidt’s side will afford Japan many opportunities. Defensively Ireland were excellent against Scotland and barely let their backline operate. However the pace in the Japan outfield will punish any Ireland mistakes.
One thing is definite and that’s that the early risers will be treated to a fantastic rugby match where hopefully the rugby played grabs the headlines and not decisions or high tackles.
The FRU predicts: Japan will get opportunities and I wouldn’t be surprised if they go a try up early on. However Joe Schmidt has instilled a calmness in Ireland and I think they’ll have enough in the tank to defeat the hosts. Ireland by 15.
|Ryohei Yamanaka||15||Rob Kearney|
|Kotaro Matsushima||14||Keith Earls|
|Tim Lafaele||13||Garry Ringrose|
|Ryoto Nakamura||12||Chris Farrell|
|Will Tupou||11||Jacob Stockdale|
|Yu Tamura||10||Jack Carty|
|Yutaka Nagare||9||Conor Murray|
|Keita Inagaki||1||Cian Healy|
|Shota Horie||2||Rory Best|
|Jiwon Koo||3||Tadhg Furlong|
|Luke Thompson||4||Iain Henderson|
|James Moore||5||James Ryan|
|Kazuki Himeno||6||Peter O’Mahony|
|Lappies Labuschagne||7||Josh vd Flier|
|Amanaki Mafi||8||CJ Stander|
|Atsushi Sakate||16||Sean Cronin|
|Isileli Nakajima||17||Dave Kilcoyne|
|Asaeli Valu||18||Andrew Porter|
|Wimpie van der Walt||19||Tadhg Beirne|
|Michael Leitch||20||Rhys Ruddock|
|Fumiaki Tanaka||21||Luke McGrath|
|Rikiya Matsuda||22||Joey Carbery|
|Lomano Lemeki||23||Jordan Larmour|