Ireland 39 Japan 31
IRELAND saw off the brave challenge of Japan in front of 3,000 fans at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, in an entertaining high scoring contest, to avenge their defeat at the hands of Japan at the 2019 World Cup.
The Ireland discipline was poor in the opening minutes, which presented a penalty opportunity to Japanese out-half Yu Tamura, and he made no mistake from 45m to grab a third-minute lead.
Ireland did not have long to wait to get up and running, as they worked a quality try in the 7th minute off a lineout. Big carries from Jamison Gibson-Park, Caelan Doris, Ronan Kelleher and Finlay Bealham had the Japanese defence scrambling and quick ball allowed Munster centre Chris Farrell a simple run in just to the left of the posts.
Japan hit straight back, as Ireland failed to deal with the restart, and after Ireland had been penalised Japan engineered a lineout maul which the Irish pack could do nothing about, as Japan captain Michael Leitch scored in the 10th minute.
Gibson-Park, Jacob Stockdale and Hugo Keenan were all guilty of falling off tackles in the opening quarter. This led to sustained pressure from Japan and Ireland were incredibly fortunate as centre Timothy Lafaele thought he had scored a wonderful try under the Irish posts in the 18th minute only for the TMO to chalk it off due to a fractionally forward pass from Tamura in the build-up.
Ireland had been sloppy, but it all came together in the 26th minute in a move that had been sparked by a brilliant chip and regather by Joey Carbery in midfield. Ireland then ran it left where Keenan found a huge gap in the Japanese defence, fed Stuart McCloskey, who in turn shovelled it on to Peter O’Mahony. O’Mahony took the contact, but importantly kept his feet and was able to offload back to McCloskey, who had looped around, and the big Ulster centre was able to go over in the left corner for a superb score.
Japan had been the better side in the opening half and they scored a wonderful try in the 35th minute to regain the lead. Tamura stabbed an inch-perfect cross-field kick into the arms of his left winger Siosaia Fifita who broke through another poor Irish tackle and fed Lafaele who this time was not to be denied, as he just about reached the whitewash to score.
Japan were over-ambitious trying to play from their own 22 and only ended up coughing up possession back to Ireland and the Irish pack capitalised with tight head Finlay Bealham crashing over right on halftime to give Ireland a 19-17 lead.
Japan scored another excellent try at the start of the second half, with the superb Tamura ghosting down the blindside before dinking a lovely grubber kick through which allowed Fifita to go over in the 42nd minute, but in keeping with the rollercoaster nature of the game Ireland went straight down and scored a try of their own, from a very direct effort, with Gibson-Park making in-roads into the Japanese 22, which allowed the impressive Josh van der Flier to crash over in the 48th minute, and Jacob Stockdale got in on the act for his 19th international try in the 52nd minute with a score out wide after a superb long Gibson-Park pass.
The game was not over, however, with Japan scoring another sublime effort out of nothing. Right-winger Semisi Masirewa instigated the move with an offload on halfway, and slick handling from Mafi and Fifita put away scrum-half Naoto Saito to score in the 57th minute.
However, Carbery responded with penalties in the 61st and 68th minutes to make it 39-31 to Ireland, and in the 70th minute Skibbereen’s Gavin Coombes came on to replace O’Mahony to make his international debut in the back row, as Ireland held out against a tiring Japanese side.