This wasn’t meant to happen. Having seen off Scotland with a demolition job in the Yokohama rain, Ireland were supposed to turn up in Shizuoka six days later and give host nation Japan a similar buffeting.
However, that never materialised. Despite initially looking good value for an early 12-3 lead, Ireland were not the team of last weekend and they ultimately paid an embarrassingly heavy price, allowing Japan to rumbustiously hit back and shake up yet World Cup in the process.
What was galling for Ireland is that their set-piece suffered in the closing 10 minutes of the opening half, a momentum swing that helped Japan heap on the pressure that enabled them to close the gap to just three points at the interval.
Ireland failed to stem the tide in the second half and the increasing Japanese intensity in the collision eventually proved too much for them in the humid conditions.
Kenki Fukuoka grabbed the crucial lead-taking try on 59 minutes and despite unloading a bench that was given many plaudits for its energy the previous weekend against Scotland, the Irish had no answers.
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Their surrender was summed up by replacement out-half Joey Carbery kicking the ball into touch at the finish rather than keeping the play alive in the hope of fashioning a result-saving Hail Mary play. Here’s how the beaten Ireland players rated:
ROB KEARNEY – 5
Back fit after missing the Scotland match, he was initially hungry for involvement. Showed his experience in allowing play unfold before pouncing for his 21st minute try. However, his day went downhill from there and he was unable to prevent the last pass getting to Fukuoka to score in the corner. Made two good contributions as Ireland attempted a rescue but it wasn’t enough.
KEITH EARLS – 5
Was the first player used by Jack Carty under the cross-kick but that early chance went begging. Had some positive moments in attack and while there were some missed tackles, he remained defensively alert and protected Ireland’s losing bonus point when mowing down Fukuoka who looked set to score off a Jordan Larmour intercept.
GARRY RINGROSE – 4
Started off like an express and was Ireland’s best attacker early on. Some excellent footwork hinted that he was well up for this and he was rewarded for his poise under the dropping ball to score off a Carty kick on 14 minutes. Demonstrated he had a boot, too, executing a pressure-relieving kick on 27 minutes after Josh van der Flier had scrambled. However, his defence is the frequent weak link in his armoury and it was exposed here under Japanese pressure when it most mattered.
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CHRIS FARRELL – 5
He was Ireland’s busiest defender in the backs and yet couldn’t deliver the same sort of presence that the absent Bundee Aki supplies. Struggled to get over the gain line when carrying and he was gone for Larmour after his team fell into arrears.
JACOB STOCKDALE – 4
Showed alertness just four minutes in to scamper back and snuff out a Japanese kick over the Irish try line. Didn’t have the necessary gas to beat his man on the outside on 21 minutes, but his step inside kept going the move that resulted in Kearney’s score. His inexperience showed in the second half, though, as there was never a sniff at fashioning a rescue chance.
JACK CARTY – 5
Huge day for the Test rookie. Spurned an early three points with an unsuccessful cross-kick to Earls, but he didn’t miss a beat as his two kicks, as well as an aerial handling assist, were pivotal to Ringrose and Kearney scoring tries off penalty advantages. Struggled from there, though. His overcooked halfway restart at 12-9 illustrated how momentum swung against Ireland just before the interval. Then, behind a pack that was losing its cohesion, he was pulled for Carbery after the Japanese try.
Ireland promised after 2015 they would not be caught winging it at the 2019 RWC with an inexperienced out-half starting at No10 in a big match in place of Johnny Sexton, but they have not delivered on that aim https://t.co/Y2QThUAiJW
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 27, 2019
CONOR MURRAY – 4
Gave a masterclass last Sunday but ran into too many blind alleys here. At fault for giving Japan three of their kicks at goal, two of which were converted, including one for offside on 71 minutes that allowed the hosts to push 19-12 clear and heap on the scoreboard pressure. Was too predictable as he looked to pass rather than test the Japanese more around the breakdown by sniping.
CIAN HEALY – 4
The focus of so much pre-match hot air about his scummaging. After a positive start, he was involved in the 36th-minute set-piece penalty concession on Irish ball that further inflamed Japanese hopes that they could win. Offered nothing in the ball-carrying department and was gone early in the second half for Dave Kilcoyne who was unable to up the ante.
RORY BEST – 4
It was his lineout mishap on 31 minutes on halfway that was the first momentum shift in offering Japan a way back into the game. That miss when throwing to Iain Henderson altered the match’s pattern and even when Ireland looked to re-establish themselves in the early parts of the second half, another missed throw on 49 minutes after a penalty was kicked to the 22 highlighted there would be no improvement. Lacked the necessary leadership in a troubled period and was gone on 61 after Japan hit the front.
TADHG FURLONG – 4
Started well along with so many others. There was an encouraging scrum penalty win on 19 minutes, while he also demonstrated he can improvise in the loose with a deft grubber after a Japan knock-on. However, his display declined from there, his effort lacking its usual punch in the collision. At fault for some turnovers as well before swopped for Andrew Porter.
IAIN HENDERSON – 4
Has a loose start before getting up to speed during the middle first-half period where Ireland were in the ascendency. Was the target Best failed to hit at the lineout on 31 minutes which precipitated the build-up of Japanese pressure. Was gone on 66 for Tadhg Beirne who, straight in, ripped the ball from a Japan maul, the sort of impact that Henderson lost his way in trying to achieve.
JAMES RYAN – 6
Carried the fight to Japan amid the crisis that was the 30th to the 40th minute and again after the 50th minute onwards but where he led, he had few too followers. This lack of support was encapsulated in the 65th minute when he was penalised for holding on just metres short of the Japanese posts. One of the rare bright lights on a chastening day.
Kick off in 20 mins time in Shizuoka. ????
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 28, 2019
PETER O’MAHONY – 5
Led the charge on the defensive side of the first half ball. Was a nuisance at the breakdown, losing, winning and losing penalties in a variety of incidents, the last giving Japan their first three points. However, he could only do so much with the Irish pack eventually losing the collisions. He was pulled for Rhys Ruddock on 55 minutes before Japan hit the front.
JOSH VAN DER FLIER – 4
He remains a bit of an enigma. He will tackle all day for his team – and he did again here – but he doesn’t offer enough of a threat on the other side of the ball. That failing was very noticeable with Ireland needing people to punch holes in the Japanese defence in the final 20 minutes. One dash back towards his own line had been important in tidying up some first-half danger, but he was penalised for not rolling away on 38 minutes which allowed Japan come within three points heading into the interval.
CJ STANDER – 4
Looked as if he had played his final last Sunday in the win over Scotland. Ireland needed him to get over the gain line frequently but the Japanese saw him coming and he was restricted to no more than a 18-metre gain off 10 carries. He looked increasingly unsettled and it was his error, crossing in front of Chris Farrell, which gave Japan the penalty they went on to fashion their try from.
WATCH: What Joe Schmidt and Rory Best said about the Ireland team prior to the match against Japan
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