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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019

'We're confident we can beat them' - Japan have a plan for Ireland

The Japanese squad have done their homework on Joe Schmidt’s squad.

IRELAND’S PLAYERS WILL be aiming to impress for more reasons than usual on Saturday as they take on Japan in Shizuoka.

There’s a samurai sword – known as a katana in Japan – on the line for the Irishman who impresses the Japanese squad most, with Russia wing Kirill Golosnitskiy honoured last Friday for his performance as the Brave Blossoms won their opening game 30-10.

kotaro-matsushima-celebrates-scoring-their-fourth-try-with-teammates Japan started with a win over Russia on Friday. Source: Craig Mercer/INPHO

To be accurate, it’s a plastic version of a katana but that at least means one of the Irish players will be able to take the sword home when Ireland’s tournament is over.

“As the host nation, it’s a sign of respect to give out a traditional sword,” explained Japan scrum-half Yutaka Nagare at their team hotel in Hamamatsu today. “It’s a matter of creating bonds and relationships and friendships.”

Right now, one suspects that it will be difficult for Joe Schmidt’s squad not to think about a possible quarter-final against the Springboks, but the studious head coach will be reminding his players of the threat in front of them this weekend.

Japan are underdogs, of course, but they have no fear about facing Ireland, now the second-ranked team in World Rugby’s official list after last weekend.

“Obviously, the whole public is favouring the Ireland side, they are expected to win,” said Nagare. “But we are pretty confident and we truly believe we can prove them wrong.

“We’ve got skills and ability to beat Ireland. It’s about executing our plan.

“It’s about mentally believing that, getting the detail right and having the confidence in our training and what we’ve accumulated through the build-up and the tournament. We are confident we can beat anyone.

“Whether Ireland are the best team in the world, we’ve prepared well, so we’re confident we can beat them.”

japan-v-russia-pool-a-2019-rugby-world-cup-tokyo-stadium Japan fans in Tokyo. Source: Ashley Western

Japan are hopeful that they can use a big result as a springboard to capture the entire nation’s imagination and, in turn, catapult them into the top levels of rugby longer-term. 

They face a demanding task this weekend against Ireland, though, with their back three set to face a barrage of high balls after that area of their game struggled hugely against Russia, and even more so in their final warm-up game against South Africa.

Ryohei Yamanaka explained today that he and his fellow back three players have a tradition of singing the Backstreet Boys’ ‘I Want it That Way’ after their meetings, but they certainly won’t want to see Ireland launching contestables all day on Saturday.

“They kick a lot, so contesting and catching will be really crucial,” said Yamanaka. “If I get the opportunity to play, that will be my key focus.

“There are different situations in the kicking game, it could be a box kick or a high ball from 10, so we’re simulating those different scenarios.”

Nagare believes that limiting the influence of Ireland halfbacks Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton is essential.

“They’re key players and if we let those two players play comfortably, they will really come into the game and dominate,” said Nagare.

“So it’s important that we pressure them at source every chance we get and apply that pressure for the whole 80 minutes.

“And especially early on, we must apply immense pressure so that they feel really uncomfortable from the start.” 

yutaka-nagare Japan scrum-half Yutaka Nagare. Source: Craig Mercer/INPHO

With two front row players and Japan’s scrum coach up for media duties today, there was also plenty of chat about that set-piece, where the Brave Blossoms feel they can cope.

Again, Ireland are expected to test the Japanese severely in this area.

“They’re very strong and Ireland has the winning mentality when it comes to scrummaging and it’s a good mindset,” said scrum coach Shin Hasegawa.

“They’re a very strong side but as long as we execute the coach’s plan, we should be fine,” added prop Isileli Nakajima, who only converted from the back row last year.

Kizu, the second prop presented to the media, suggested that Cian Healy has been scrummaging illegally.

“Their loosehead prop sort of steps out, so they try to attack from the side,” he said. “That’s my impression of the scrum.”

Kizu did praise Ireland captain Rory Best, saying it was “awesome” that the 37-year-old completed the full 80 minutes against Scotland.

Defensively, Japan feel they understand what is coming their way from Ireland’s physical ball-carriers.

They have been working on sending two players into each tackle.

“Ireland’s forwards attack close to the rucks so we need to have those double collisions to stop their momentum, and we need to execute our system for us to achieve that,” said Kizu.

Nakajima concurred:

“We’re going to send two guys in there to stop them. It’s called a double collision – one low, one high. And if that works, it should be no problem.”

japan-fans-ahead-of-the-game Japan have hug support on home soil. Source: Craig Mercer/INPHO

Japan are hoping for hot weather as they aim to run Ireland off the pitch on Saturday, while they will also look to get outside them with their wide attack.

All in all, Jamie Joseph’s men have real belief they can cause the shock of this World Cup.

“They’re a strong side, but we need to beat them to make the quarter-finals,” said Nagare. “So my mindset is that we must beat them.

“For Japanese prosperity, we really need to win to fulfil that expectation, but we’d also like to enjoy that pressure.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Hamamatsu

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