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'We had been preparing for this game for a hell of a lot longer than the Irish had'

Japan lit up the World Cup with sensational display in Shizuoka.

THE POST-MORTEM into Ireland’s defeat will follow, the analysis of their shortcomings in Shizuoka will be detailed, the hand-wringing and head-scratching will go on for days, if not longer.

But Japan’s performance in producing a stunning 19-12 shock win in Shizuoka must not be overlooked.

The Brave Blossoms rocked the World Cup four years ago by beating South Africa in Brighton but this was right up there. Despite coming in as 21-point underdogs, Jamie Joseph’s men were the better team by some distance and deserved to win by more.

japan-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle The Brave Blossoms celebrate their stunning win. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

By the death, Ireland were barely clinging on to the losing bonus-point that keeps their quarter-final hopes alive. 

It might have taken until the 59th minute for Japan to finally cross the tryline through Kenki Fukuoka but their attacking performance was superb against Joe Schmidt’s side.

Not only can the rugby world get behind this massive upset, but they can rejoice in a style of rugby that makes others look dull. While their total of five linebreaks was short of Ireland’s seven, Japan constantly stretched the Irish defence with width and tempo.

Crucially, they had a defensive performance to match, muscling up after two early try concessions. They battered Ireland when Schmidt’s side desperately went back to their power game in the closing stages, earning turnovers and sapping Ireland of belief.

There is little doubt that Ireland’s dire display played into Japanese hands, but the Brave Blossoms made life incredibly difficult for Rory Best and co.

The official ball-in-play time was 38 minutes and 59 seconds, so nothing extraordinary, but it felt like much more as the Japanese attack saw Ireland dragged from wide left to wide right and back again.

Though they conceded two first-quarter tries to trail 12-3, Japan seemed to be the better prepared of the teams, with Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown having concocted a plan that even saw them match Ireland’s physical power – a genuine shock for Schmidt’s players.

Even the late withdrawal of Will Tupou – a certainty for aerial targeting by Ireland -  from the left wing seemed calculated, with Lomano Lemeki coming into the starting side and Fukuoka making a surprise early return from injury as number 23.

japan-celebrate-after-the-whistle Japan were the better team at Ecopa Stadium. Source: Jayne Russell/INPHO

It was Fukuoka who finished the game-clinching try and very nearly denied Ireland a losing bonus point, only for Keith Earls to drag him down.

“We had a plan to use Kenki against Samoa and we accelerated that a bit,” said head coach Joseph afterwards.

With their counter-attacking game working a treat, their defence shutting Ireland down, and their positional play allowing them to deal with the Irish kicking game after those early try concessions, Japan could have won this game by more than seven points.

“There was a lot of belief around us,” said Joseph. “Belief in what we were doing and what we wanted to do, and we showed that today.

“The Irish are a quality side and we had been preparing for this game for a hell of a lot longer than the Irish had, the last year at least, if not the last three years subconsciously.

“The Irish have been thinking about this game since Monday.”

Japan’s win was greeted with raucous celebrations in Ecopa Stadium, while it has likely captured the imagination of the nation. A home World Cup in new territory certainly needed a moment like this and the Brave Blossoms’ win over Ireland could be a genuine game-changer.

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Four years ago, Japan weren’t able to follow up their shock win over South Africa by advancing from the pool, but they’re keen to ensure this peak is not followed by a big dip next weekend against Samoa.

yutaka-nagare-celebrates-after-the-game Japan's support was deafening. Source: Jayne Russell/INPHO

The final game of Pool A between the Japanese and Scotland will also be a test.

Japan have been clear in targeting a quarter-final since before this tournament began, and they’re not losing sight of that goal now.

“We’ve discussed that as a team,” said Joseph. “We are just going to enjoy tonight as a team.

“We could be in a situation where we win tonight and lose to Scotland and not go through. That’s what happened last time, so we won’t get ahead of ourselves.”

After their stunning shock win over Ireland, the Brave Blossoms will have many neutrals willing them on towards a quarter-final. 

“We’ve really shown that nothing is impossible,” said replacement scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka.

“We showed the world that Japan can win.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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