Ireland won’t make any knee-jerk decisions following their shock World Cup defeat to Japan as the camp looks to quickly get their Pool A campaign back on track following the mother of all rugby upsets.
As the shockwaves shuddered back to Ireland from Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa over the weekend and a rugby nation wailed its discontent at the humbling of their team on the international stage, Joe Schmidt’s squad licked their wounds, climbed aboard a bullet train yesterday and headed west to Kobe to prepare in what little time they have for Thursday’s meeting with rank outsiders Russia.
On the face of it, this is a fixture that looks ideal for Ireland to regroup and rebound. Whether they finish first or second in the pool, and face South Africa rather than defending champions New Zealand in the quarter-finals is now out of their hands, but two bonus-point wins from their remaining games against the Russians and Samoa will put them on course for the knockout stages.
That should be well within Ireland’s grasp, but then again, so should beating Japan, and quite clearly that was beyond a team that contributed so much to its own downfall on Saturday. This was not the only occasion in 2019 that Schmidt’s side have been asleep at the wheel but it is the first time they have been outclassed by a team as lowly ranked as world number nine Japan.
The Brave Blossoms were well worth the victory that was relished throughout the rugby world, but left Ireland rueing what might have been, just as the South Africans did four years ago when Japan staged a similar hit-and-run on the Springboks to bring the 2015 World Cup to life.
Not that this was a party the travelling Irish supporters were excluded from, their disappointment fleeting as they bounced back with gusto to join the impromptu celebrations on train platforms and in bars across Shizuoka Prefecture on Saturday night.
There will be considerably more introspection amongst the Ireland management, however, for having watched their players race impressively into a 12-3 lead with two tries inside the opening 20 minutes, they witnessed a team that lost the plot in front of their eyes, their poor discipline handing an invitation to Japanese fly-half Yo Tamura to kick his team back to a 12-9 half-time deficit and build their way further into this contest after the break.
When Kenki Fukuoka scampered over for his side’s only try in the 59th minute, Japan’s bullish predictions of the previous week made perfect sense. We’ll exploit Ireland’s outside edges and double-team against your ball carriers, they promised, and boy, did they deliver. Ireland generously put the ribbon on the top with a string of penalties, Tamura adding another later on to stretch the lead to seven points, and some sloppy decision-making in attack that failed to dent the defiant Japanese defensive line.
“The biggest disappointment was to score two tries in the first quarter and not to add to that is incredibly disappointing,” head coach Joe Schmidt said.
“To put ourselves in a couple of positions where we felt that we were close enough and putting real pressure on and we got quite close and then didn’t actually capitalise.”
For all the furore on social media after this result, this infamous defeat will not influence Ireland’s team selection for the Russia game, with Schmidt set to announce his team tomorrow.
“No, I think we always had a plan,” forwards coach Simon Easterby said yesterday. “It hasn’t changed, really. We are still in control of our own destiny and that’s hasn’t changed. And it hasn’t changed our thinking in terms of selection for this week.
“It’s a short turnaround, five days, we have travelled. It’s not a million miles away from where we were, but we have got to adjust to new surroundings.
“We have got a training session on Tuesday and a captain’s run on Wednesday and then we are into a game on Thursday.
“In that respect, we have always had a plan for this week. Obviously we have to adapt to guys who might pick up injuries, and have done so over the last week or so. We want to make sure we slot those guys back in when we can. That might be this week, it might be the Samoa week.
“So nothing has changed from our perspective in terms of the planning, regardless of the result last night.”
That is as may be, but changes in mindset are now of the highest priority. Johnny Sexton, who is set to come back into the team this week following a thigh strain sustained in the 27-3 bonus-point win over Scotland eight days ago, laid the blame for defeat on a failure of the players to execute Schmidt’s gameplan. You can be sure the vice-captain and fly-half, who cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines in Shizuoka before kick-off on Saturday, will be front and centre this week and demanding more from his team-mates, because Ireland need to snap out of this self-induced malaise and start delivering once again.
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).
A Sakate, R Matsuda
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
Angus Gardner (Australia).