Ireland stumbled to a win against Japan in the first of two summer series matches at Lansdowne Road on Saturday afternoon.
Despite the win, few in the Ireland side came out of the game with their reputations enhanced as Japan, only playing their second game in 20 months, were much sharper with the ball in hand.
The game had it’s moments, particularly when Japan were going forward, but I found myself losing interest towards the end as Ireland started to kick their penalties.
Ireland (19) 39
TRY: Chris Farrell, Stuart McCloskey, Finlay Bealham
Josh van der Flier, Jacob Stockdale
CON: Joey Carbery (4)
PEN: Joey Carbery (2)
Japan (17) 31
TRY: Michael Leitch, Timothy Lafaele, Siosaia Fifita
CON: Yu Tamura (4)
PEN: Yu Tamura
Japan were first out of the blocks with a 3rd minute penalty from Yu Tamura getting the game up and running.
Ireland responded by bullying their way up field for Chris Farrell to crash over after a series of darts from close in. Joey Carbery converted to take the score to 7 – 3 after 7 minutes.
A poor restart from Ireland saw the impressive Michael Leitch crash over from a line out maul, converted by Tamura and six minutes later they ripped through the Irish midfield for Timothy Lafaele to go under the posts. Unfortunately the TMO managed to find the only clip where the final pass to Lafaele looked forward and the score wasn’t awarded.
Ireland’s luck continued when Stuart McCloskey finished off a break down the left by Hugo Keenan and Peter O’Mahoney. All three looked to have butchered it at one time or other but the fairly passive Japanese defense let McCloskey reach the line after a pop pass from O’Mahoney. No conversion but Ireland were back in front 12 -10 after 25 minutes.
Japan’s restart again caused chaos in the Irish ranks leading to a penalty attempt that came off the upright before Lafaele got his just reward, Siosaia Fifita latching on to a kick pass by Tamura to wrongfoot the Irish defence and send Lafaele clear. Tamura converted to move the score to 12 – 17 five minutes before the break.
However, Ireland took a somewhat undeserved lead into the break after some up the jumper close work ended with Finlay Bealham finding the line. Carbery’s conversion gave Ireland a 19 – 17 lead at half time.
Japan opened up the second half in some style with a break down the left by Tamura. It looked to be well marshalled before Tamura slid in a delightful grubber, at full pace, for Fifita to collect and score. Wonderful. Tamura converted to take the score to 19 – 24.
The home side gave up all pretences of trying to play Japan at their own game and once again looked to direct, and oh so boring, rugby as they looked to blast it up the middle. A snipe from Jamison Gibson Park took them to within a couple of meters and Josh van der Flier did the rest.
Minutes later a second battering attack ended with Gibson Park finding Jacob Stockdale out wide for the winger to score in the corner. Carbery converted both to rattle the score along to 33 – 24 and the expectation was that Ireland would start and pull away.
However, a nothing kick by Carbery handed Japan a flooded blindside and they carved up the Irish defenders with ease for Naoto Saito to cross. Tamura’s conversion took the score to 33 – 31 as the game approached the final quarter.
Ireland went into full bore mode as the subs came on and they squeezed the remaining life out of the game, Carbery kicking two penalties to give Ireland a 39 – 31 win.
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, Chris Farrell, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Joey Carbery, Jamison Gibson-Park, Dave Kilcoyne, Ronan Kelleher, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Ryan (C), Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris. Replacements: Rob Herring, Ed Byrne, John Ryan, Ryan Baird, Gavin Coombes, Craig Casey, Billy Burns, Shane Daly.
JAPAN: Kotaro Matsushima, Semisi Masirewa, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Siosaia Fifita, Yu Tamura, Naoto Saitom, Keita Inagaki, Atsushi Sakate, Jiwon Koo, Wimpie van der Walt, James Moore, Michael Leitch (C), Lappies Labuschagné, Kazuki Himeno. Replacements: Kosuke Horikoshi, Craig Millar, Asaeli Ai Valu, Jack Cornelsen, Tevita Tatafu, Kaito Shigeno, Rikiya Matsuda, Shane Gates.
It was a poor enough performance from Ireland who struggled when they tried to play outside of their ruck and reload game. Caelan Doris and Ryan Baird did try and generate some fluency with ball in hand but it was meagre fare compared to what the Japanese were doing.
You have to feel for Andy Farrell who had to try and motivate the players for a sponsors game after 24 months of non stop rugby and you have to feel for Japan for the inadequacies of their competitive season. Give them regular international rugby and they would have won by some distance.