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So after a settling performance against Scotland, Ireland now faces the hosts on Saturday morning at 8:15 (Bray standard time). So what should we expect? What is the general feeling ahead of the game and what way will Ireland play the game?
Anytime you play the hosts of any competition, whether it is J4 or international, especially if you are a higher ranked team, you know they will give that extra 15%. Japan will take the field and start fast. They have an interesting way of playing. They plan to keep the ball in play and moving for longer than most teams, hoping that the humidity takes its toll on the opposition. I read during the week that Japan keep the ball in play 12 minutes (average) more than any other team. So it will be interesting to see if they are allowed to play that way. As for how Japan will play, they will be smarter than Scotland. The Scots talked themselves up to the point that they believed the pre-tournament hype, and when you do that you can’t handle adversity because it was ‘never supposed to happen’. Japan will do the work before trying to go wide, which is still the perceived Irish weakness. Scotland went wide without doing the work, and Larmour, his wing and the midfield where able to marshal that easily. Japan won’t be so obvious in their game so Rob Kearney and the other wings have their work cut out for them. Japan has made 4 changes but has left their big threat, Matsushima, on the pitch. He is up against Stockdale which will be a great test for the defensive aspect of Stockdale. Any time Matsushima gets a sniff, he is electric.
After the first round, and with this team selection, Japan is aiming at Scotland. A good bet for a win for the hosts.
So let’s look at Ireland. Kearney and Earls back in. Farrell starts at 12, Carty in at 10 and a slightly changed bench with Cronin in with Carberry and Larmour, with the rest as started in game 1. This is a strong and positive selection from Joe. I went to bed on Wednesday thinking maybe rest a few players, and then woke up on Thursday thinking Ireland should play as many front liners as possible. Joe was obviously in my dreams (again) and went with the stronger selection. Getting minutes into the legs of Kearney and Earls is massive, O’Mahony too. Starting Carty gives the player massive confidence for down the road if needed and Carberry being introduced at maybe 55 minutes gives him game time. Such a smart selection.
So Ireland really should be able to do to the Japanese pack what they did to the Scottish pack, dominate and destruct. This opens up space and time for Carty and Murray to run the game. We should be looking for some more plays like the Carty – Farrell dink and back pass from last week. Some more freedom should happen during this game as the scoreboard builds.
The general vibe ahead of the game is far better than I would expect. People are outwardly saying the right things, which I assume matches the internal thoughts. Japan are being respected, and rightly so. Joe has picked a strong team. The supporters understand that Ireland needs a few really solid performances to get the confidence back. That started in the second Wales game and has continued into the world cup. When you look at teams like England that haven’t hit the same speeds they did in preseason as of yet, they didn’t have a testing preseason, whereas Ireland played top teams and built well. Ireland will be ready for a big test, whether it is the extra 15% that Japan will bring, or moving forward into the quarters.
Lastly, happy 50th to Henderson and happy 100th to Captain Rory!
Ireland to win by a big score after a tough opening 15, and then we go again!