Dylan Riley made his international debut for Japan last month. Alamy Stock Photo
New Face

'You've got to be confident in your skills' - Getting to grips with Japan's demanding gameplan

Panasonic Knights player Dylan Riley makes his first Test start for Japan today.

THERE’S AN ELEMENT of the unknown about this Japan team. 

We know they like to play fast, open rugby, and we know they are well capable of causing an upset, but today’s game against Ireland at Lansdowne Road will represent just their fourth Test outing since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Eleven of the 15 players that start for Japan today have World Cup experience, but there are new players being blooded too, as Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown look to build towards France 2023.

One of those new faces is Dylan Riley, a former Australia schoolboys and U20s player who came off the bench in last month’s defeat to Australia and is handed his first Test start today.

The 24-year-old made the move to the Top League in 2017, joining former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans at the Panasonic Knights when he found opportunities in his native Australia hard to come by.

It was a move made with one eye on the 2023 World Cup, as Japan looked abroad in a bid to close the gap on the top tier nations. Around the same time, two other promising young Australians – Jack Cornelson and Ben Gunter – also packed their bags and headed to the Knights. All three start against Ireland today.

It’s been a sore point back in Australia for some time, with Wallabies boss Dave Rennie highlighting his fears for the future of the game in the country, such is the exodus of young talent.

Time will tell how it all plays out, but it’s safe to say Riley hasn’t looked back since changing his allegiance. He’s impressed in his three seasons in the Top League, and received his Japan citizenship in 2019.

A versatile back, he plays most of his rugby at outside centre – which is where his future probably lies in this Japan team – but is named on the wing this afternoon. That’s what expected when you play for Japan – adapt and take your chances. With injuries mounting, the visitors start with four recognised centres in their backline today.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge. The coaches and my teammates have really helped me out through the week,” explains Riley, who was part of the training squad ahead of the summer fixtures against the British and Irish Lions and Ireland.

dylan-riley-and-siosaia-fifita Japan's Dylan Riley and Siosaia Fifita during Friday's captain's run at the Aviva Stadium. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s definitely been a learning experience. Getting put into any international system, getting to know the coaches, I’ve never really been a part of it (before) but I got to do a camp earlier in the year with them, and they’ve just been really helpful throughout the whole process.

“But mainly they just try and get as much out of you, so letting you back your skills and the way Japan play is a very skilful style of play, so you’ve got to be confident in your skills. That’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned.”

An international debut arrived against his native Australia last month, with Riley showing a few nice touches across a 22 minute cameo.

So far, the biggest learning curve has been getting up to speed with Japan’s high-tempo, highly demanding gameplan, which places a huge emphasis on workrate.

With so few Test matches on offer for one of the most exciting teams in the modern game, they’ve had to work hard on recreating that Test-level intensity across a series of extended training camps.

“Yeah, definitely (it’s demanding),” Riley continues.

I think it starts on the training field, getting reps in and just consistently doing it. I haven’t really had experience (at Test level) so the only place I can really do it at the moment is on the training field, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like out there this weekend. 

“I think we’ve had a really good week prepping.”

And while we know to expect an all-action approach from Japan, Joseph’s squad also feel they are well prepared for what Ireland will bring to the table.

“Of course there is going to be a few high balls but through the week we’ve been working on that. Other wingers and the coaches have been helping me through it, going through a few drills. I’m looking forward to the challenge and going into the game with as much confidence as I can.”

They are also aware that it’s going to be a special occasion for Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, and it’s a party Japan feel they can spoil.
“Anyone that plays 100 Tests for their country is obviously doing something right,” Riley adds.

“He’s definitely a key player in that team so any chance we get to stop him, or stop their momentum is probably through him. So we’ll look to do that.”

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella, and Gavan Casey look ahead to Ireland-Japan with the help of Japanese rugby expert Rich Freeman, while the lads also assess ‘Tier Two’ rugby two years out from the World Cup:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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