Ireland's 'new breed' set for entertaining contest with inventive Japan

Paul O’Connell is excited about the skill levels of Ireland’s players.

Rónan Kelleher and Dan Sheehan
Rónan Kelleher and Dan Sheehan
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

DEMAND FOR TICKETS hasn’t been what the IRFU had hoped for but those who turn up at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon for Ireland’s clash with Japan [KO 1pm, RTÉ 2/Channel 4] should be treated to some very entertaining rugby.

The last time Jamie Joseph’s side visited back in July, the two sides played out a nine-try thriller.

The Brave Blossoms delivered their fair share of those thrills with their inventive and exciting attack but Andy Farrell’s Ireland showed plenty of scoring power too as they racked up five tries.

It’s not long ago that the Irish attack hit a major high point against England too, that win at the end of this year’s Six Nations suggesting that Farrell and attack coach Mike Catt had made progress on that side of the game. Consistency is now the key.

This Ireland coaching team is excited about the ball-playing potential of their team and while kicking will obviously remain a central part of the plan, Farrell has skillful players like Caelan Doris, Tadhg Beirne, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter, Jack Conan, Hugo Keenan, James Lowe, and Rónan Kelleher throughout his team.

“Any game against Japan is always going to be an exciting game of rugby,” said Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell yesterday. “For sure, we want to play and we know they want to play.

“I think there’s a bit of a new breed of player coming through now in Ireland – guys that grew up in their clubs and grew up in their schools playing a lot of rugby, handling the ball an awful lot.

“Guys go into an academy and they get excellent coaching. So we have a lot of really big, athletic guys but they are very good with the ball in hand as well. For me, as a forwards coach or a fan watching this Irish team, I think that’s exciting.”

johnny-sexton Johnny Sexton is set for his 100th Ireland cap. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Connell is as concerned about Ireland nailing their set-piece duties, of course, and there is an expectation that the home pack will look to apply serious pressure on the Japanese lineout and scrum, where it will be fascinating to watch Porter, Kelleher, and Furlong start together at Test level for the first time. Another of their Leinster team-mates, hooker Dan Sheehan, will debut off the bench. 

Steering the ship for Ireland will be the most familiar face of all and Johnny Sexton thoroughly deserves the great reception he is sure to receive from the crowd on the occasion of his 100th cap.

It’s a shame that this won’t be a sell-out, with ticket sales standing at around 38,000 yesterday, but Sexton will be keen to remind everyone of his enduring class at the age of 36.

“He’s tough on people, he drives standards,” said O’Connell of his former team-mate.

“I think one of the reasons he’s able to do that is he builds good relationships with guys. A lot of guys have very good relationships with him and they want him to be tough on them.”

Today, Sexton will be demanding of a backline that includes the returning James Lowe on the left wing, with the Leinster wide man motivated to show Farrell he has what it takes to be a Test level force. 

Jamison Gibson-Park is at scrum-half and, like Lowe, has a chance to convince the Ireland coaches that he’s ready for a start against his native New Zealand next weekend. Before that, Gibson-Park’s creative edge around the ruck should be useful today.

Japan boss Joseph has welcomed back two key men in out-half Yu Tamura and fullback Kotaro Matsushima, who is the only non-Japan-based player in the team. Both were stars of the 2019 World Cup.

jamie-joseph-takes-a-selfie Japan coaches Tony Brown and Jamie Joseph. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Kazuki Himeno will be a key man at number eight, while Ryoto Nakamura and Timothy Lafaele are an inventive centre partnership, with the latter providing a handy left-footed kicking option too.

There is no doubt that Japan’s attack coach Tony Brown will have come up with ways to stretch this Ireland defence, but they are the underdogs for this one. 

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It’s a very different Ireland team to the one that Japan faced in Dublin in July, with their Lions and the likes of Sexton back, meaning Farrell’s men go into this contest as the favourites.

Japan have given Ireland a major shock before and they must be respected but Ireland should have enough quality to get their November series rolling.


  • 15. Hugo Keenan
  • 14. Andrew Conway
  • 13. Garry Ringrose
  • 12. Bundee Aki
  • 11. James Lowe
  • 10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
  • 9. Jamison Gibson-Park
  • 1. Andrew Porter
  • 2. Rónan Kelleher
  • 3. Tadhg Furlong
  • 4. Tadhg Beirne
  • 5. James Ryan
  • 6. Caelan Doris
  • 7. Josh van der Flier
  • 8. Jack Conan


  • 16. Dan Sheehan
  • 17. Cian Healy
  • 18. Finlay Bealham
  • 19. Iain Henderson
  • 20. Peter O’Mahony
  • 21. Conor Murray
  • 22. Joey Carbery
  • 23. Keith Earls


  • 15. Kotaro Matsushima
  • 14. Dylan Riley
  • 13. Timothy Lafaele
  • 12. Ryoto Nakamura
  • 11. Siosaia Fifita
  • 10. Yu Tamura
  • 9. Yutaka Nagare
  • 1. Keita Inaki
  • 2. Atsushi Sakate
  • 3. Jiwon Gu
  • 4. Jack Cornelsen
  • 5. James Moore
  • 6. Ben Gunter
  • 7. Pieter Labuschagne (captain)
  • 8. Kazuki Himeno


  • 16. Yusuke Niwai
  • 17. Craig Millar
  • 18. Asaeli Ai Valu
  • 19. Yoshitaka Tokunaga
  • 20. Tevita Tatafu
  • 21. Naoto Saito
  • 22. Rikiya Matsuda
  • 23. Ryohei Yamanaka

Referee: Nika Amashukeli [GRU].

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:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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