Miracle Part II?
Host Nation Aiming To Repeat Brighton Heroics Against Powerhouse Ireland
Ireland, ranked world number one coming into the tournament, will face the tournament’s hosts today in Shizuoka.
Both sides are unbeaten going into the match which kicks off at 16:15.
Last Friday, Japan comfortably beat Russia 30-10, while on Sunday Ireland’s forwards put on a powerful display in a 27-3 drubbing of Scotland.
These two teams have met seven times in total and twice in a World Cup.
Ireland has defeated Japan on every single occasion and by more than 20 points in their last six encounters.
Back rower Pieter Labuschagne will captain a Brave Blossoms side with two positional switches in the match-day squad.
Head coach, Jamie Joseph has selected Amanaki Mafi to start at number 8, shifting Kazuki Himeno to blindside flanker and putting last week’s captain, Michael Leitch on the bench.
Front rower, Keita Inagaki said of Labuschagne, “There's no issue in particular. He offers a fantastic captaincy and everyone listens to what he says. Michael Leitch can come in at tough periods to add more to the captaincy and it's really ideal."
After impressing in the second half against Russia, Ryohei Yamanaka will play at fullback, pushing William Tupou to the wing.
Veteran of four World Cups, Luke Thompson, gets his first start at lock and will pair up with James Moore in the second row.
Japan’s backline is virtually unchanged. Joseph has decided to keep faith with flyhalf Yu Tamura who has been struggling to find form in recent weeks.
The main areas of concern have been Tamura’s tactical kicking and passing that has seen the number 10 gift tries to the opposition. If those areas of his game are still not up to scratch, then Ireland will have a field-day.
It’s a risk but Joseph obviously feels that Tamura can deliver a performance that will help steady the ship for Japan.
Captain Rory Best will lead out Ireland for the 36th time, second to Brian O’Driscoll’s 83 appearances in the captaincy role. The Irish forward pack remains unchanged from last week’s mauling of the Scots.
In the backs, however, wholesale changes have been made.
Johnny Sexton is a notable omission from the side, and one that gives Jack Carty just his second international start since his debut on 24 February 2019 against Italy.
Gary Ringrose explained, "The adaptability of the squad is very important. You've got to be ready to play with different combinations. Jack is certainly more than ready to play and step up in his position. It's up to the centres, myself and Chris (Farrell), to try and help him as much as possible so that he can focus on doing his job."
Due to failing a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) against Scotland, center Bundee Aki has not been considered and has been replaced by Chris Farrell.
Last week’s try-scorer, Andrew Conway makes way for winger Keith Earls who has scored the most World Cup tries (8) for Ireland.
Rob Kearney who has featured in eight World Cup matches (four in 2011 and four in 2015) returns to fullback.
After viewing Japan’s first half performance against Russia, Ireland will no doubt be testing the Brave Blossoms’ defense with high up-and-unders.
Winger Kotaro Matsushima who bagged a hat-trick of tries against Russia said, "The first thing is to persevere. Even if we drop (kicks) we need to maintain a strong connection among the back three, keep our positions where each of us can help each other out and don't give away possession easily. We need to start with the catcher doing his job first."
There’s also the powerful forward pack to negate for Japan and set-piece will be crucial if the hosts have any hope of creating an upset.
Inagaki said, “They are a team that will look for a penalty from the scrum, I think Ireland take pride in that, and we need to have an aggressive, attacking scrum to not to give penalties away. If you give penalties away they can choose lineouts and maul, they also have good kickers so can go for three as well so it's important not give such options in the first place."
The wait is finally over for Japan to take on Ireland. The Brave Blossoms will be pushed to the limit all over the park by a relentless Irish pack that likes to dominate and that is supported by pace and experience out wide. Japan’s coach Joseph knows that this result will be a fair indicator of his player’s chances of reaching the final eight. It will be a colossal challenge for Joseph’s men but we all know what happened to South Africa in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
- Todd Phillips: Sept 28, 2019