Ireland suffered one of the biggest upsets in Rugby World Cup history as Japan repeated their Brighton miracle against South Africa on home soil to leave Joe Schmidt’s men stunned at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa.
Just as the Brave Blossoms defeated the Springboks in England four years ago to send shockwaves through the tournament, they were full value for their Pool A victory which blows the group wide open once again. Ireland were kept scoreless for an hour after an early two-try burst as they lost their way in a fevered atmosphere.
Tries from Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney inside 20 minutes, the second converted by Jack Carty, were insufficient insurance for a side which had hammered Scotland 27-3 six days earlier.
Japan fly-half Yo Tomura capitalised on sloppy inaccuracies from the Irish to leave the hosts trailing just 12-9 at half-time and when replacement wing Kenki Fukoaka scored a well-worked try just before the hour, the Brave Blossoms sniffed the Tier-One blood of the rudderless Irish.
Tomura converted and then added a late penalty, Ireland’s desperate search for a response only creating more problems as the mistakes piled up on a terrible day for their hopes of safe passage to the quarter-finals.
Schmidt’s men must now beat Russia in Kobe in five days and then Samoa in Fukoaka nine days later and hope either Japan or Scotland slip up in their remaining games, their pool rivals set to meet in the final round of the pool schedule. Japan will not worry about that just yet, however. They were too busy getting the deserved adulation of the home crowd on an epic night in Shizuoka.
Once Ireland settled, Schmidt’s men set up Japan perfectly for Carty to bag full reward from a crossfield punt.
Ringrose comfortably beat Lemeki to the high ball, fielding cleanly and finishing in style.
Tamura’s first penalty had Japan on the board after Peter O’Mahony was ruled offside at a ruck.
But Ireland bulldozed the Japan scrum, punted the penalty upfield for a good platform – and Carty again outfoxed the home defence with his kicking game.
The 27-year-old chipped over the line, tapped back – and full-back Kearney scooped up to barrel home for the try.
A lost lineout put Ireland under huge pressure as Japan continued to race forward at a hectic pace. Conor Murray was pinged for killing the ball in his own 22, so Tamura posted the facile penalty to cut Ireland’s lead to 12-6.
Another Tamura penalty allowed Japan to cut Ireland’s lead to just three points.
And Ireland were so rattled by the Japanese onslaught that Carty sent the restart dead, handing the hosts a scrum on the halfway line.
Japan stole the chance for one last attack in the half, ploughing through 16 phases with time well and truly up.
But just when the hosts looked to have broken Ireland’s defence, hooker Shota Horie’s grubber kick evaded the onrushing Lomano Lemeki – and Ireland tiptoed to half-time with that slender 12-9 lead.
Japan continued to threaten, until Ireland won a scrum penalty and kicked to the corner rather than for goal. Ireland duly lost the lineout however, wasting the hard-won platform.
Japan kept on coming, time and again, and eventually Fukuoka crossed in the left corner.
CJ Stander collided with Chris Farrell in a bungled break from a scrum, gifting Japan the scrum deep in the Ireland 22.
The pumped-up hosts lapped up the chance, powering through the middle before whipping the ball wide.
Tamura’s fine conversion then put Japan into a 16-12 lead on the hour.
Ireland emptied the bench and pressed for a score to turn the tide, but it never came.
And when Tamura posted his fourth penalty for a 19-12 lead, Japan’s stunning victory was complete.
JAPAN: R Yamanaka (K Fukoaka, 50); K Matsushima, T Lafaele, R Nakamura, L Lemeki; Y Tamura, Y Nagare (F Tanaka, 56); K Inagaki (I Nakajima, 63), S Horie, J Koo (A Ai Valu, 54; L Thompson (W van der Walt, 63), J Moore; K Himeno, P Labuschagne - captain, A Mafi (M Leitch, 20).
Replacements not used: A Sakate, R Matsuda.
IRELAND: R Kearney (L McGrath, 68 - HIA); K Earls, G Ringrose, C Farrell (J Larmour, 51), J Stockdale; J Carty (J Carbery, 61), C Murray; C Healy (D Kilcoyne, 45), R Best - captain (S Cronin, 61), T Furlong (A Porter, 45-55 - HIA & 61); I Henderson (T Beirne, 65), James Ryan; P O’Mahony (R Ruddock, 55), J van der Flier, CJ Stander.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)