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Ryan against Japan at the 2019 World Cup.
Ryan against Japan at the 2019 World Cup.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

James Ryan: 'That game in 2019 is probably one of the toughest I've ever played'

James Ryan is warning Ireland fans not to overlook Japan’s threat next weekend.
Oct 30th 2021, 7:09 AM 25,973 5

Updated Oct 30th 2021, 3:05 PM

FORGET NEW ZEALAND. Never mind their aura, never mind this is their first trip to Dublin since that night in 2018, their first game against Ireland since the World Cup quarter-final a year later. Never mind all that.

If you are James Ryan, you remember Shizuoka; Japan, Ireland. You remember the toughness of the day, the bitterness of the defeat. So you don’t overlook the first fixture on this month’s itinerary simply because the second game is the hottest ticket in town. Overlook Japan and you pay for it.

“If you’re sloppy and if your ball control is poor, they’re a team that thrive on that access, they’re lethal off turnover and loose kicks, they come alive,” says Ryan of the Brave Blossoms.

“It’s about making sure that our unstructured attack is good and accurate as we don’t want to give them lines into the game.”

It wasn’t in 2019. The price they paid at that World Cup was a quarter-final date with the All Blacks with confidence low. “That game in 2019 is probably one of the toughest I’ve ever played,” said Ryan. “Defensively it’s always hard against the Japanese because it’s all about the speed. What we did against them in the summer (Ireland won a high scoring thriller) and what we did in the Six Nations against England is the benchmark for us now.

“For us, the messaging is about not going backwards.”

james-ryan-ronan-kelleher-and-caelan-doris Ryan at the Canterbury kit launch. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

When Ryan was told that others, outside the bubble, are looking beyond Japan, he told them to watch a replay of the 2019 World Cup. “The upsets they caused, they even ran the ‘Boks pretty close for large parts of that quarter-final.

“They’ll be better since the summer and better since playing Australia, they’re a team that improves the more time they spend together.

“So, for us, we know it’ll be a serious task because of the brand of rugby they play.

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“They’re probably not the biggest men in comparison to some of the teams. They kind of try to negate that through the quickness of their play and that kind of brand suits them because they are a bit smaller. So we’ll see how we get on.”

By the end of this month, we’ll know more about Ireland than we do now, for this is an evolving team. Since 2019, Rory Best and Rob Kearney have gone, Andrew Porter is set to step up from the bench to claim Cian Healy’s No1 shirt; Ryan Baird, Caelan Doris have emerged; Tadhg Beirne is a major player now, Jack Conan, too.

Japan is a test, New Zealand the moment when you graduate. “With the All Blacks coming to town, it’ll be them alongside the Boks who are the benchmark at the moment in the sport. It’ll be good to see where we sit. Japan will be a real test for us as well.”

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