Hawkeye Sidekick

Rugby World 2019: Japan stun Ireland

Japan’s running game and game plan too much for Ireland

The last act of this superb test match spoke volumes. Ireland camped on their own line with the ball at Joey Carbery in his own goal area. Japan’s dominance there for all to see. Ireland were spent and the 19-12 loss was fortunate for Joe Schmidt’s men. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects.

Japan win deservedly

2015. Brighton. Japan shocked the rugby union world with a last gasp victory over South Africa. Fast forward to 2019. This result was no fluke. Japan had their homework well and truly done on Ireland and Ireland simply did not have the composure or the game management to stem the tide.

You have to give Japan massive credit. Other teams could have been rattled to submission once Ireland scored those two early tries but the hosts did not waver from their tactics. They dominated the tackle area; their breakdown work at times was dubious but they adapted to the officiating on the day. Ireland’s multi-phase play was stifled and Japan’s better pack mobility started to create a platform.

Ireland play the open game and get bit

The question that Ireland have to answer is how did this test match go so terribly wrong so quickly? The first quarter was decent, good gain line breaks with Jack Carty looking to expose the Japanese outside defense at regular times. Carty’s decision to hit Earls in the corner although brave was not the play that early in the contest; kick to corner and build pack platform.

Two tries on the board without a significant pack platform created but Ireland decided to open the game up. A move which on another day would have paid dividends but gave Japan a massive lift; this game plan was playing into their hands and with no box kicking in sight, the Japanese back line unit started to warm to the task.

Hail Hail Michael Leitch!

A significant personnel change saw the introduction of Michael Leitch in the second quarter. It was a move which for me was a key cameo. Leitch’s leadership in the pack saw obvious; their breakdown work and set piece execution started to improve. Leitch was a frustrating menace for Ireland’s back row unit and half backs with regular intervals. His stifling breakdown work resulting in Murray’s increasing frustration and slow ball for Ireland to work off.

Ireland energy level wane

The energy levels in this Ireland team particularly started to wane massively from the second quarter. Japan were the quicker side with ball in hand and even the likes of Jacob Stockdale was struggling to win 1:1 encounters out wide.

The climate factor must be thrown into the mix. Ireland’s conditioning was an issue yesterday in the stifling humidity and heat. The host nation were composed at the national anthems while their opposition were sweating profusely.

The Ireland pack’s clear out work which was crisp in the opening quarter was now a mess; debate can reign on Japanese offside and not rolling away Ireland’s pack were unable to adapt and improve their clear out work. Messy ball presentation and the inability of the Ireland back row unit to impose their authority on the game.

Inconsistent Set Piece

The set piece which worked so well against Scotland was pretty disappointing. An area of play where Ireland expected to dominate did not materialize. The line out calling was horrendous; first pod options throughout and then there were massive overthrows in prime field territory. It is a collective responsibility for Ireland’s pack and the scrum was a mixed bag. Tough video review for the pack today.

Back line feeding off scraps

Ireland went into this fixture with confidence high. Experience in the back field with Kearney and Earls returning but the back three never got an opportunity to impress with ball in hand. Scraps would be kind. Kearney’s try off Carty’s aerial win. That was about it.

The center combination had limited joy after the first quarter to provide an attacking platform. Chris Farrell’s threatened a number of times with ball carries but no offloading options to unsettle Japan’s defense. Ringrose was elusive but he had massive issues on the defensive side of the ball as Japan’s running game from deep saw several massive gain line breaks.

Ireland leadership issues?

Ireland’s effort was there but the worry for the camp now is two fold. The leadership on the park was non-existent in the last quarter. Players looking to take the game to Japan were few and far between. Conor Murray looking for runners from deep to create that devastating gain line break from close range. The energy levels perhaps a factor but no one stepped up to deliver. Post Rory Best and the Ireland captaincy becomes an issue. A test match and scenario where Ireland were faced with yesterday, no one comes out of this fixture with any credit in either performance or leadership attributes.

The second big question was game management tempo. Japan’s ability to keep the game tempo high was impressive; never gave Ireland a chance to regroup and create pressure themselves. Ireland’s pack is our weapon. Japan knew it but the game plan dictated that this game was played out wide and not in the trenches. Ireland left themselves vulnerable to this result and they deservedly were defeated.

What’s next?

Russia. Thursday. A fixture last week which looked like a formality now suddenly looks tricky particularly given the fact that the fringe squad will be on duty. The lack of cohesion is a worry and the added pressure that this game must deliver five points is huge.

Ireland have the players to regroup here. The question is whether the management will provide a game plan which is efficient and effective enough to secure the win and close out this contest early. The tactics yesterday were a mess; the management need to bounce back and respond too.

Russia’s fourth game in the tournament; fatigue must now be a factor for the side. Three bruising encounters so far and the squad is now stretched. Ireland’s pack should see fresh bodies. Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne, John Ryan, Andrew Porter game minutes huge. Carbery needs game time and this week is a perfect opportunity to get good minutes along with Jack Carty.

Ireland have received their wake up call. They have time to resurrect this campaign as Pool A has plenty of twists and turns yet. A good professional win against Russia will restore confidence. Keep the faith! It is easy to turn on the side now but the side are experienced and are capable of righting the wrongs. Roll on Thursday!