peace and quiet

Ireland settle into 'isolated' life out of spotlight before clash with Japan

Joe Schmidt’s squad travelled by bullet train to Shizuoka yesterday.

LAST UPDATE | 24 Sep 2019

FROM THE MADNESS that was Yokohama last weekend, Ireland have escaped into the Japanese countryside to keep their heads down in the build-up for the next challenge.

The Green Army turned out in impressive force for Ireland’s opener against Scotland on Sunday, with many of them arriving into Yokohama a day early to belt out The Fields of Athenry during the All Blacks’ win over the Springboks.

Even the second-half downpour couldn’t quiet the traveling Irish support – who were reinforced by many local Japanese people donning green jerseys – as they roared their team to a dominant bonus-point win to kick-off their World Cup campaign.

conor-murray-rhys-ruddock-jonathan-sexton-and-keith-earls Ireland have moved into the Shizuoka countryside. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

With optimism levels back on a high, Ireland departed Yokohama yesterday, jumping onto the bullet train for an hour-long trip to Shizuoka, from where they were transferred to a secluded traditional Japanese hotel, where they can breathe easy after five nights in the city.

While Joe Schmidt was deeply appreciative of the support Ireland had last weekend, he will value the quieter time out of the spotlight this week as he brings his players back to the boil for this Saturday’s meeting with hosts Japan.

“I was talking to a couple of my brothers who were at the game yesterday with a whole bunch of supporters, and they said to me, ‘It must be great to play away and always play at home,’” said Schmidt yesterday after Ireland had completed their journey.

“The Fields of Athenry was being pumped out and it felt like a home stadium in Yokohama, so hopefully there will be a few Irish who get to Shizuoka and get to Ecopa Stadium to get behind us on Saturday.

“But I’ve no doubt the Japanese will have the majority of support, being the home nation.

“We’re out at the Katsuragi Hotel. It’s a country hotel, it’s a very traditional Japanese hotel and we’re quite isolated this week.

“So I think it’s probably ideal for us not to have too many distractions, to be the sole occupants of a little and very traditional Japanese hotel in the week that we’re playing Japan. It’s probably a bit unique.”

Ireland’s players won’t be complaining about the luxury surroundings or adjacent golf course, but the serious work starts again today with a training session at the nearby Yumeria Grounds.

keith-earls-and-conor-murray Ireland travelled by bullet train yesterday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Schmidt was relieved to get through the “nerves” of Ireland’s first game with such a positive outcome. He was pleased with the bonus point, as well as the manner in which Ireland held Scotland out after Tadhg Beirne’s late yellow card left them down to 14 players.

The superb form of virtually all of his key players was highly encouraging at the start of this World Cup campaign, with scrum-half Conor Murray among those to stand out with a composed, controlling display.

“Conor, the way he found Andrew Conway in the lead up to that try – he actually called to Andrew that it was going to come back his way as he was going to that ruck,” said Schmidt.

“For him to have that vision, that game sense that it was going to unfold the way it did was really important for us. Obviously, it was the bonus-point try.

“Defensively, we know he’s really reliable. I thought some of his kicking was great for us. In the conditions, you need a little bit more of that kicking game, so all round I think Conor was relatively satisfied, as were we.”

While the prospect of Ireland facing South Africa in the quarter-finals is now very real and likely to dominate the narrative around Schmidt’s men over the coming weeks, the head coach is keen not to trip on the hurdle that Japan represent.

He knows their head coach, Jamie Joseph, well but it is assistant coach Tony Brown who is most intriguing. Brown has a reputation as being a creative thinker like Schmidt, capable of designing clever power plays from set-piece and picking out opposition weaknesses. 

That Brown has actually visited Ireland camp in recent years makes it even more interesting. This battle of the rugby brains could be riveting, even if Ireland are firm favourites. 

bundee-aki Bundee Aki pictured as Ireland yesterday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I always thought he was a really good player, Tony Brown, and a super competitor,” said Schmidt.

“He actually came in and spent three days with us in the national set-up, and it wasn’t too long after that that we ended up playing against a Tony Brown-coached side [Japan], along with Jamie Joseph, in our 2017 summer tour.

“He brings a real understanding of the game and a willingness to play, an encouragement to take a few risks but to be working hard enough on the skill base you have to have to be able to maximise the potential for those risks to have positive outcomes.

“He’s a really good foil for Jamie, who’s a pretty hard-nosed character and a top man and they’ve obviously done a terrific job with Japan based on the Pacific Nations Cup, based on some of the really big performances they’ve put together.”

As for his own team, Schmidt will consider changes due to the six-day turnaround between beating the Scots and facing Japan.

With Johnny Sexton, Bundee Aki and Peter O’Mahony among those to have taken knocks, we could see Schmidt mixing things up.

“We feel that we’ve got to make sure that we’re very, very good on Saturday but at the same time, we do feel that we can bring in a few fresh people and not lose the kind of cohesion we’ve been trying to build since we got together in mid-June.”

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