IRELAND face Japan on Saturday in the first meeting of the sides since Japan’s 19-12 victory over Ireland in the pool stages of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and Ireland will be looking to set the record straight with what is expected to be an inexperienced side.
Eleven of the Japanese side that started that deserved World Cup Pool A victory have travelled as part of Jamie Joseph’s squad to Europe, so we can expect a strong Cherry Blossoms side to take to the Aviva Stadium pitch on Saturday afternoon, and we can also expect that last Saturday’s 28-10 loss to the Lions will have brought them on a tonne.
With Ireland’s leading lights down in South Africa on Lions duty it is a relatively inexperienced Irish squad that is prepping for the two summer Tests against Japan and the USA.
Only Jacob Stockdale, Chris Farrell, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier of Andy Farrell’s current 37 man squad are survivors from that defeat in September 2019, so in reality that game should not be of too much relevance.
What is most important is how Ireland handle Japan’s all-action, high tempo game, as the Irish team that faced them in Shizuoka weren’t able to do so.
Key to putting the shackles on Japan will be by dominating them at set piece time.
In their game against the Lions at Murrayfield Japan really struggled at scrum time, in particular, and the Irish pack will be very much targeting doing a number on them here this Saturday.
Twelve uncapped players have been included in Farrell’s squad, with West Cork pair Fineen Wycherley and Gavin Coombes hoping to make their international bows.
It would be a strange coincidence if they debuted on the same day, considering they were both born on the exact same day back in December 1997.
Given the year he has had, where he scored 15 tries and was crowned Munster’s player of the year, you would expect Coombes to become an integral part of the Irish team going forward.
It will be interesting to see if Farrell attempts to accommodate both himself and Leinster’s Caelan Doris in the same back row, as such a scenario would have to be a positive.
Other interesting newcomers include the pacey Ulster winger Robert Baloucoune and the energiser bunny that is Connacht scrumhalf Caolin Blade, as both have attributes that could be beneficial to Ireland going forward, while it will be exciting to see how Leinster’s young outhalf Harry Byrne takes to international rugby, although he might have to wait for the United States to see game time.
Ireland will expect to win, but they know, from personal experience, that if they let the game become too loose that Japan will punish them, so we can expect Ireland to go through the phases, get their scores off set pieces, and put it up to Japan to be able to deal with that approach.