Ireland earned an early lineout from the kickoff. If you wanted to see an upset then the start by Japan was needed.
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Confident handling and a rapid tempo from the Brave Blossoms created the first chance as a little dink rolled towards the Irish line and Ryoto Nakamura was desperately unlucky as he did not get the bounce of the ball.
A big opportunity was missed by Japan to take an early lead as Yu Tamura hooked a straightforward penalty from in front of the posts left.
Jack Carty tried a spectacular with a flat cross kick from a penalty trying to pick out Keith Earls. The winger could not quite pull off the spectacular finish and Japan breathed again.
A muscular run from Stockdale saw Ireland work it right to left, offloading to Ringrose who almost beat his man around the outside. Japan held firm but their attempt to run it out did not get far and Ireland continued to pile on the pressure.
On 14 minutes Carty knew he had a penalty in his pocket and from 15 metres in the front of the posts, the fly-half dinked a lovely cross-kick towards the right-wing, where Ringrose got above his man and spun it over. Carty could not convert though making it 0-5.
Tamura got a chance to cut the deficit almost immediately as Stander was pinged for offside. A straight kick from shorter range.
It was not the prettiest kick you had ever seen but it went over and Japan struck back to make it 3-5.
Ireland dominated the game’s first scrum as Inagaki rolled around the corner. Carty kicked for the corner.
There was a quick check for a knock-on as Rob Kearney got on to Ringrose’s paddle back from another speculative Carty kick from near the try line which allowed the full-back to bundle over. The TMO was happy and this time Carty converted making it 3-10.
The cross-kick was clearly the order of the day for Ireland, they went to it straight from the restart and made good ground before a Rory Best knock-on eased the pressure.
Tim Lafaele’s little flick lifted the crowd and created a chance for Japan as Matsushima chased a kick behind. Whenever Japan got on the front foot they looked fast and dangerous. Ireland may have had two tries and the lead but they were not having it all their own way.
On 31 minutes James Moore entered a ruck as he tried to pick and go from the ruck, he was slightly unlucky. Michael Leitch came on for Amanaki Mafi as Japan were forced into an early change. It was a blow for the hosts, though the captain was a very capable replacement.
Shortly after on 34 minutes Conor Murray held on in the ruck and Tamura was able to knock over the penalty which was an easy kick from close range. Japan was keeping the game close at 6-12
Japan probed in midfield and earned a penalty as they made their way in increments up the field. Tamura now made a chance to cut the lead to just three points, After he missed one early the Japanese fly-half made amends as his kick bowed back from left to right to dissect the post.
Japan had Ireland on the ropes as the first half ticked into extra time, putting together their most phases of the game. A cute grubber kick through almost released Yamanaka on the left but the full-back could not quite keep it in play and with that, the half ended 9-12.
The second half got underway, saw an early Irish scrum in their own half but Carty kicked deep into the Japanese half. This is clearly where Schmidt wanted his side to play in the second half.
Japan played fast and loose in midfield starting the half, this suited the hosts a lot more than the Irish. There was no fear from the Brave Blossoms who seemed prepared to play through the hands and offload even in their own half.
On 47 minutes Andrew Porter came on for Tadhg Furlong and David Kilcoyne came on for Cian Healy as the Irish made replacements in the pack.
Yamanaka went up unchallenged for a Murray kick and came down without the ball. Scrum was awarded to Ireland in the Japan half, but that was a soft ruling.
Matsushima’s wonderful sidestep saw Japan go from behind their own line all the way to halfway. It was electric from the wing and Ireland looked a little rattled as the knock-on inside the Irish half followed by another mistake gave Yamanaka a chance to level.
Tamura banged it from distance but got his line wrong as the kick drifted left.
Japan were rumbling now. They strung together ten phases before losing the ball forward deep in the Irish half. Nagare went off for the experienced Fumiaki Tanaka whilst shortly after Rhys Ruddock came on in the back row for Ireland.
Japan took the lead 16-12 after accidental offside from the Irish and saw a scrum for Japan 15 metres out. Fukuoka pounced after neat handling across the Japanese line, Lafaele especially. Tamura knocked over the extras.
71 minutes saw a scrum Japan burst forward again and Murray was pinged for offside. Tamura now had a chance to extend the lead.
Japan took the chance to ensure a seven-point lead. They get their reward for bravery in their own half, passing their way out and forcing a penalty. The fly-half’s kick was drifting but it went through the posts. Score was now an incredible 19-12 to the hosts.
The clock was counting down now as Kenki Fukuoka intercepted and it looked like the game was all over as he sprinted some 60 metres but Earls somehow caught the Japanese replacement five metres from the Ireland line. It was a knock on though and Japan had a scrum under the posts.Tanaka waited to put in and let the clock tick away some more as the hosts were holding on for an amazing victory.
Shortly afterwards the hooter blew to the delight of the Japanese nation who roared with delight as they celebrated an amazing 19-12 victory against the Irish.
The Irish captain Rory Best in fairness was magnanimous in defeat saying
“We knew how tough it was going to be. Anyone that thought was utterly shocked hasn’t seen how good they are.
We came in a game plan and we felt we were really prepared. Give credit to them, they played really well and we made a few mistakes, a few unforced errors and were on the wrong side of the penalty count. They posed a lot of questions and we couldn’t come up with the answers”
Meanwhile, the Japanese head coach was flying he said
We’re ecstatic about the result, we’re very proud of the players. We had a plan and have trained for a long time, we have been thinking about this game for quite a long time and obviously, Ireland had only been thinking about it for the last six or seven days. For us, it’s been a great performance.
You have to be careful before the game, you don’t want to come across too arrogant and cocky. We had a lot of belief in our game plan and knew how strong Ireland were. Credit to my coaching team, at the set-piece we were able to hold theirs.
Now it’s phase two, we’ve got another couple of games to go but we’ll enjoy tonight I reckon”