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Farrell's Ireland get over the line in battle against thrilling Japan

The home side scored five tries against the exciting and ambitious visitors.

Ireland 39

Japan 31

A JULY TEST maybe but this was a proper international test for Andy Farrell’s Ireland as the wonderfully skillful Japan pushed them all the way in Dublin.

caelan-doris-and-jamison-gibson-park-celebrate-with-jacob-stockdale-after-he-scores-a-try Ireland celebrate Jacob Stockdale's try. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Jamie Joseph’s men shocked Ireland at the 2019 World Cup on home soil and there were signs they could pull off an upset on Irish soil too as they played some outstanding attacking rugby to cut Farrell’s men apart at times. 

Ireland were missing seven players away on Lions duty and a few more through injury or being rested, but Farrell had still selected the strongest and most experienced side available to him as he predicted a close encounter with the Brave Blossoms.

He will have been frustrated to watch his own team’s errors in defence and at lineouts and restarts contribute to Japan being so competitive but the Ireland boss will also have been satisfied to see his side score five tries and steady themselves to get over the line with a win.

The back row of Caelan Doris, man of the match Josh van der Flier, and Peter O’Mahony were impressive, while fullback Hugo Keenan was a rock once again. It was also pleasing for Gavin Coombes to win his first cap off the bench late on, even if he would have hoped for longer than nine minutes. Craig Casey, meanwhile, got only 90 seconds.

Chris Farrell, Stuart McCloskey, Finlay Bealham, van der Flier, and Jacob Stockdale all crossed for Irish tries – four of them coming from lineout platforms – but it was the Japanese attack that grabbed most attention.

They won themselves many more fans here with inventive rugby sparked by the likes of out-half Yu Tamura and centre Timothy Lafaele. It’s shame for them that they lost key man Kazuki Himeno to injury before kick-off.

While Ireland move on to a clash with the US next weekend, Japan have shown that they are here to stay as some of the game’s chief entertainers.

stuart-mccloskey-scores-a-try Stuart McCloskey scored a first-half try for Ireland. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Japan were unsurprisingly quick out of the blocks as a couple of sloppy Irish penalties brought them into the game, Irish captain James Ryan’s lineout offence allowing Yu Tamura to open the scoring off the tee.

Ireland responded well, however, as a powerful carry by Caelan Doris from a lineout near the Japan 22 laid the platform for their seventh-minute try. Scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park sniped after Doris made the initial headway, then Ronan Kelleher and Finlay Bealham carried before centre Chris Farrell showed his footwork to finish.

But Ultan Dillane failed to gather the restart after Joey Carbery had converted, with Japan pouncing for a turnover penalty they kicked into the left corner and then mauled over for a try from captain Michael Leitch.

Left wing Siosaia Fifita scorched onto a clever Timothy Lafaele grubber down the left shortly after and the pressure yielded another penalty for Japan to march back into the Ireland 22, where they high-tempo and varied attack very nearly produced a try for Lafaele, whose effort was chalked off as the TMO review showed Tamura’s assisting pass was forward.

Ireland botched a superb chance at a five-metre lineout heading into the second quarter as Kelleher threw in crooked but they did get back in front soon after.

timothy-lafaele-scores-a-try Timothy Lafaele finished a brilliant Japan try. Source: ©INPHO

It started with Carbery chipping in behind Japan and getting a fortunate bounce to regather the ball after it nearly bounced up for the visitors to potentially break away. Carbery’s contribution was followed by Doris releasing Keenan for a big break with a superb pullback pass.

Keenan linked on to McCloskey, who found Peter O’Mahony to thunder over Japan debutant Semisi Masirewa and offload back to McCloskey. The Ulster centre finished through Kotaro Matsushima for a wonderful Irish score and a 12-10 lead.

The Irish restart issues struck again as Dillane spilled a second for Japan to win another penalty – Tamura hitting the post this time – and the lineout problems worsened as Japan picked off two more, the second of them leading to Lafaele’s try.

It was another wondrous attack as Japan switched back underneath a midfield breakdown for Tamura to cross-kick out to Fifita on the left. He beat Shane Daly – on for the injured Jordan Larmour – one-on-one and then passed to the supporter Lafaele, who showed pace and power to get over wide on the left.

Tamura converted but Ireland still had time to edge back in front before the break, Matsushima passing the ball into touch to five them an initial lineout platform in the Japan 22.

yu-tamura Yu Tamura was a creative presence for Japan. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Carbery was held up on their first attack but they had penalty advantage and after tapping it, Bealham forced his way over with a strong latch from Kelleher and Peter O’Mahony. Carbery’s conversion concluded an action-packed opening half with Ireland 19-17 in front.

Ireland lost Chris Farrell to a head injury early in the second half – Billy Burns coming on and Carbery shifting to inside centre – and they lost the lead when play resumed too.

Keenan initially did well to tackle Matsushima wide on Ireland’s right but they left the shortside undefended and Japan out-half Tamura cleverly snuck away down the narrow channel and rolled a sumptuous grubber kick back inside for Fifita to gather and score.

The out-half then converted that beautiful try but Ireland reacted well as the tit-for-tat scoring continued. Farrell’s men used the same right-hand-side lineout play as for their first try, with Doris carrying and Gibson-Park sniping back to his right for big gains before Josh van der Flier put the finishing touch on the passage by powering over.

Carbery’s extras left Ireland 26-24 in front with 30 minutes left and Japan then suffered the blow of losing Matsushima to injury.

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peter-omahony-claims-a-high-ball Peter O'Mahony claims a restart for Ireland. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Ireland gave themselves some breathing room with another excellent clinical score from lineout following a strong kick chase by wing Daly to produce a penalty. This time, Kelleher carried strongly on first phase before van der Flier and co. thundered around the corner, narrowing up the Japan defence for Gibson-Park to fire a long pass wide to Stockdale, who finished in the left corner.

Japan were far from finished, though, and they produced another bit of classy attack in conjuring a try from inside their own half. Masirewa counter-attacked and offloaded against some very poor Irish defence, with sub back row Amanaki Mafi and Fifita combining to send scrum-half Naoto Saito over for a converted score.

Ireland’s desperation to win was underlined by their decision to take three points with a penalty in the 62nd minute, Carbery slotting it for a 36-31 lead.

The home side went for the posts again six minutes later when Kelleher won a breakdown turnover penalty and Carbery was on target again for an eight-point lead. 

Ireland had the composure to see it out from there, although their decision to run the clock down – with Keenan literally running away downfield from the Japanese players – drew some boos at the final whistle.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Chris Farrell, Stuart McCloskey, Finlay Bealham, Josh van der Flier, Jacob Stockdale

Conversions: Joey Carbery [4 from 5]

Penalties: Joey Carbery [1 from 1] 

Japan scorers:

Tries: Michael Leitch, Timonthy Lafaele, Siosaia Fifita, Naoto Saito

Conversions: Yu Tamura [4 from 4]

Penalties: Yu Tamura [1 from 2]

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour (Shane Daly ’31), Chris Farrell (Billy Burns ’43), Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Joey Carbery, Jamison Gibson-Park (Craig Casey ’79); Dave Kilcoyne (Ed Byrne ’59), Rónan Kelleher (Rob Herring ’71), Finlay Bealham (John Ryan ’59); Ultan Dillane (Ryan Baird ’60) , James Ryan (captain); Peter O’Mahony (Gavin Coombes ’71), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

JAPAN: Kotaro Matsushima (Shane Gates ’51); Semisi Masirewa, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Siosaia Fifita; Yu Tamura (Rikiya Matsuda ’67), Naoto Saito (Kaito Shigeno ’67); Keita Inagaki (Craig Millar ’51), Atsushi Sakate (Kosuke Horikoshi ‘), Jiwon Koo (Asaeli Ai Valu ’51); Wimpie van der Walt (Jack Cornelson ’51), James Moore; Michael Leitch (captain), Lappies Labuschagné, Tevita Tatafu (Amanaki Mafi ’54).

Referee: Karl Dickson [RFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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