Japan a big step-up, warns Josh van der Flier

The Irish squad and management are in Japan preparing for Saturday’s opening test against the national team.

The players got their first real taste of Japan yesterday, on a day off, with two groups going to see sumo wrestlers in training.

Coach Joe Schmidt led a small Irish delegation to a discussion on Tuesday evening in Tokyo. It was organised by Ireland-Japan Chamber of Commerce.

The Irish ambassador to Japan, Anne Barrington, was among the guests, who included representatives of the Australia New Zealand Chamber of Commerce and the British Chamber of Commerce.

On-field preparations step up today, with Ireland holding their first full training session in Tokyo, before departing by bullet train, 200 kilometres southwest, to Hamamatsu, ahead of Saturday’s opener at the Ecopa Stadium.

The 50,000-capacity ground staged three matches in the 2002 soccer World Cup and will be one of the venues when the rugby equivalent is held here in 2019.

It remains to be seen how many of this inexperienced Irish squad will make that trip in two years, but Josh van der Flier knows this dry run is bound to be beneficial.

“It’s pretty cool to play in the stadiums the World Cup will be in, and getting used to the culture and, of course, Japan, who are in our group. It’s a great experience,” said the 24-year old.

He won his eighth cap in the 55-19 win over the USA on Saturday, in New Jersey, but knows the two matches against Japan will be tougher.

“Japan are capable of beating the best teams in the world, so it will be a big step up, and we’ll have to improve on last week.

“They seem very well-drilled, playing a really fast-tempo game. It’ll be a tough game; we’ll have to be at our best. They had a really close game against Wales, beat SA, so they’re up there with some really, really good teams.”

The Leinster flanker opted not to wear his distinctive red scrumcap, because of the heat in New Jersey on Saturday, and it could remain off this weekend, given the humidity in Japan.

“It was too warm! I tried it during the week and it was too warm, so I thought it’d be a bit more comfortable without it. It’s the first time in about 15 years I haven’t worn it. I’ll probably take it off this week, if it’s too hot again,” he added.

Five players — Jacob Stockdale, Dave Heffernan, Rory Scannell, James Ryan, and Andrew Porter — all made their debuts against the USA last weekend.

There are three more uncapped players in the touring party, but it remains to be seen if John Cooney, Rory O’Loughlin, and Kieran Treadwell will make their bow this weekend.

Ireland skills-and-kicking, coach, Richie Murphy, said they wouldn’t make changes for the sake of it, not least as Japan will be a more formidable outfit than the US Eagles. “I think there’ll a little bit of continuity. We didn’t come over with the idea of making changes just to keep everyone happy,” said Murphy. “First match here is going to be very tough”.

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