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Giant killers! Japan rock the World Cup with stunning win over Schmidt's Ireland

Jamie Joseph’s Brave Blossoms were sublime in overturning a 12-3 deficit to win.

Japan 19

Ireland 12

JAPAN SHOCKED RUGBY four years ago at the World Cup, and they’ve done it again.

Ireland are the victims this time, as Jamie Joseph’s sublime Brave Blossoms blew the World Cup wide open and caused one of the biggest shocks in Test rugby history.

Joe Schmidt’s side were 21-point favourites for this Pool A fixture, genuine underdogs against the 2018 Grand Slam champions, who had started so well last weekend with a bonus-point victory against Scotland.

japan-rugby-wcup-japan-ireland Source: Eugene Hoshiko

With the vast majority of a deafening 47,813 crowd at Ecopa Stadium roaring them on, Japan produced a sensational comeback victory to move into control of the pool and leave Schmidt’s Ireland wobbling.

With a losing bonus-point here, wins over Russia and Samoa would likely still see them into the quarter-finals of the World Cup, this was never the plan. Schmidt’s side were humbled by the Japanese brilliance, led by the likes of Kazuki Himeno, Kotaro Matsushima, and Timothy Lafaele.

Even if Ireland can recover to win their final two pool games, they now seem likely to have to face the All Blacks in the quarter-finals. On this evidence, Irish supporters would be far from confident facing into that tie. 

Things had started so well for Ireland, with Jack Carty providing two assists in an promising first quarter that left Schmidt’s men 12-3 in front.

But Jamie Joseph’s Brave Blossoms were sublime in their response, roared on by a sensational home crowd who never let up. The Japanese attack consistently stretched the Irish defence with their width and tempo, having a go off every turnover and kick reception.

Ireland’s confidence and energy levels visibly ebbed away in the face of the onslaught and though it took until the 59th minute for Japan to finally take the lead, it had been a long time coming.

Schmidt’s side simply had no answer in the face of it and failed to score another point after the 22nd minute as the Japanese ran riot, with the hosts’ defence becoming dominant too.

With Johnny Sexton watching on from the sidelines, having been left out by Schmidt, there was no sense of calm or control from Ireland, who became increasingly frustrated and panicked-looking. Their leaders were simply nowhere to be seen.

the-ireland-team-during-the-national-anthems Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A sensational first-half had left Ireland 12-9 ahead, although only just.

The Brave Blossoms started well amidst a deafening atmosphere and a skillful counter-attack from their own 22 almost resulted in a try at the other end, only for Lafaele’s grubber to evade wing Kotaro Matsushima and let Jacob Stockdale dot down to relieve the pressure.

Tamura missed a 42-metre penalty from in front after Peter O’Mahony went off his feet at the defensive breakdown, but the Munster man made up for that by winning the turnover penalty that finally allowed Ireland to exert pressure, following in after Chris Farrell’s excellent hit on Himeno.

Carty attempted an audacious quick cross-field kick to Earls as Ireland earned another penalty in the Japan 22, the ball just bouncing over the touchline before the right wing could gather, but it underlined the Connacht man’s confidence.

And his class showed for Ireland’s opening try in the 14th minute, which stemmed from a brilliant Joe Schmidt power play off a lineout – one they used against the All Blacks last November – sent Ringrose scything through down the right and into the Japan 22.

After Ireland battered through some close-in carries, Carty stroked a delightful kick wide right, where Ringrose rose gracefully above Japan fullback Ryohei Yamanaka to gather and score. 

Carty couldn’t convert and Tamura was able to reel the scoreline in slightly with a successful penalty after O’Mahony was again penalised at the breakdown. 

garry-ringrose-scores-his-sides-first-try-despite-lomano-lemeki Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

But Carty was purring and Ireland’s scrum won a powerful penalty to send them back into the Japan 22, where they initially mauled before the out-half swung a pass wide left to Stockdale. With advantage then playing after Japan infringed, Carty dinked a chip behind them and managed to bat the ball down to fullback Kearney, who dove over for a TMO-confirmed score.

With Carty converting, Ireland appeared to be cruising with a 12-3 in the 22nd minute and the out-half fired another cross-field kick over to Earls after James Ryan made a stunning catch under Japan’s restart.

But the hosts were truly game and had an attack to go with their mindset. Ireland needed openside Josh van der Flier to show superb work-rate to cover back and clean up a chip ahead from Japan scrum-half Yutaka Nagare in the 27th minute, Ringrose then clearing with a kick from behind his own tryline.

Outside centre Timothy Lafaele’s influence grew as ball-carriers like Kazuki Himeno made dents in the Irish defence, while the introduction of captain Michael Leitch off the bench in the 30th minute saw them step up another gear – Amanaki Mafi having been injured.

Ireland’s discipline slipped as they struggled with the wide-wide nature of Japan’s relentlessly high-tempo attack, Conor Murray going off his feet while jackaling to allow Tamura to bring the scoreline into 12-6.

Japan won a huge scrum penalty on their own 22 next up, Ireland leaving the ball in there for too long after their own feed, and within two minutes the hosts had another kickable penalty as CJ Stander and van der Flier were pinged for not rolling away.

iain-henderson-garry-ringrose-and-jacob-stockdale-with-kotaro-matsushima Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With Ireland now clinging onto their 12-9 lead, Carty kicked the restart long into Japan’s in-goal area and from the resulting scrum back on halfway, Joseph’s men threatened once again, letting Schmidt’s side off the hook as Shota Horie grubber-kicked into touch.

Ireland needed the break to catch their breath, while Schmidt would have berated them for conceding seven penalties in the opening 40 minutes, the same as their total from the entire 80 last weekend against Scotland.

Schmidt was surely keen for his players to take the pace out of the game, limit Japan’s chances on turnovers but instead they started with a loose offload from Earls that invited more pressure.

Ireland sent on Dave Kilcoyne to add an impact and he – along with Andrew Porter, on briefly for a Furlong HIA – helped them to win a scrum penalty that they kicked down into the right corner, only for 38-year-old Luke Thompson to steal the lineout.

Matsushima then made a searing counter from behind his own tryline after sweeping up an O’Mahony grubber kick, soon before Carty knocked-on in the air and Murray failed to roll away at the subsequent ruck, handing Tamura another shot at goal.

The out-half was short from long-range, however, and Ireland still somehow led.

cian-healy-tacked-by-luke-thompson Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

But the tide was firmly against them by now and Japan’s try was only a matter of time. After Ireland botched an exit play, knocking on, Joseph’s side struck clinically from the scrum inside the Irish 22. 

Wing Lomano Lemeki almost burst over from a clever switchback play on second phase, before Leitch went close. They had the composure, though, to swing the ball wide left through centres Ryoto Nakamura and Lafaele to send replacement wing Kenki Fukuoka – not initially in the matchday 23 but included at a late stage – over for the score.

Tamura converted amidst an atmosphere that shook the stadium and Japan, incredibly, led 16-12 with a quarter left.

Schmidt responded by sending Carbery on at out-half and a clever kick from Kearney forced Matsushima to carry into touch, giving Ireland a five-metre platform they so desperately needed.

From there, they turned to their power game with a series of pick-and-jams but Japan were in no mood for rolling over and won a superb turnover penalty through Himeno after battering Ireland in the tackle.  

Schmidt’s men were edgy rather than composed now, Murray passing forward to end one promising attack as the game ticked towards the final 10 minutes.

Japan extended their lead out to 19-12 in the 72nd minute as the tired Irish defence crept offside, Tamura once again sending the home support into raptures with his shot off the tee.

Fukuoka very nearly put the icing on the cake as he raced away on an intercept, but he was dragged down two metres short by the Irish chase. 

But it was already game over for Ireland as they fell to this stunning Japanese effort. 

Japan scorers

Tries: Kenki Fukuoka 

Conversions: Yu Tamura [1 from 1]

Penalties: Yu Tamura [4 from 5]

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Garry Ringrose, Rob Kearney

Conversions: Jack Carty [1 from 2]

JAPAN: Ryohei Yamanaka (Kenki Fukuoka ’50); Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Lomano Lava Lemeki; Yu Tamura, Yutaka Nagare (Fumiaki Tanaka ’57); Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie, Jiwon Koo (Asaeli Ai Valu ’54); Luke Thompson, James Moore; Kazuki Himeno, Pieter Labuschagne (captain), Amanaki Lelei Mafi (Michael Leitch ’31).

Replacements: Atsushi Sakate, Isileli Nakajima, Wimpie van der Walt, Rikiya Matsuda.

IRELAND: Rob Kearney (HIA – Luke McGrath ’69); Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Chris Farrell (Jordan Larmour ’61), Jacob Stockdale; Jack Carty (Joey Carbery ’61), Conor Murray; Cian Healy (Dave Kilcoyne ’46), Rory Best (captain) (Sean Cronin ’61), Tadhg Furlong (HIA – Andrew Porter ’46 to ’55 , permanent ’61); Iain Henderson (Tadhg Beirne ’67), James Ryan; Peter O’Mahony (Rhys Ruddock ’55), Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Attendance: 47,813

Referee: Angus Gardner [Australia].  

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Ecopa Stadium

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