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Chris Henry: Ireland must return to strengths but Jordi Murphy will brighten camp and the referee will change

Joy and pain: Jacob Stockdale is dejected as Japan celebrate their victory
Joy and pain: Jacob Stockdale is dejected as Japan celebrate their victory
Chris Henry

By Chris Henry

For all the weather warnings coming into this World Cup, not one of them forecast lightning striking twice.

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Japan, the side who shocked the world with a win over mighty South Africa four years ago, have done it again and ignited this tournament.

Ireland entered the competition as the No.1-ranked side in the world and, really missing just Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw, were no match for the host nation, now themselves on the cusp of a history-making spot in the quarter-finals.

It's amazing what adrenaline can do for a team. Those games when you feel two inches taller, that split second more alert and those marginal decisions all go your way. It was something I felt in an Ireland jersey the day we won the Six Nations in Paris and for Ulster on a number of those big European nights.

They played above their norm, left everything out there and had an insatiable desire to work.

Hugh Campbell, the sports psychologist, would always talk about getting yourself to a state of flow, where things just happen for you.

On those days, you feel like a game could last 130 minutes and you'd still be going. The Japanese team have been priming for this World Cup for 10 years, targeting this game for two-and-a-half years and, its effects on Ireland aside, it was incredible to see. It's pretty rare to get that, but if you could bottle it for every game you'd be winning the World Cup next month.

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The flip side to that feeling of near-invincibility is the toll on the opposition. You can sense it in defeat just as much as you can in victory, often times before the game even kicks off.

Ireland, who had expended plenty of emotional energy themselves, looked flat as a pancake by half-time.

When we were playing Leinster in their pomp, especially in semi-finals and finals, you'd get to a line-out or a scrum and they'd already be there ready to go.

Relentless. You'd desperately be trying to catch your breath and look across and they seem like the game's only just started.

That's what I saw from Ireland when that key line-out was turned over in the second half, players more than anybody can feel that momentum.

It's a terrible place to be, but the key then becomes to play to your strengths and not theirs, and for me, Ireland didn't do that.

Japan want to play at pace, yet it's Ireland throwing offloads to start the second half when the next score was so key. The maul was such a weapon against Scotland but, when given the chance to catch and drive, it's a peel move off the back for CJ Stander.

Moments later, after some good carries, it was over-elaborate again, trying to go out the back door when the defender simply lined up Joey Carbery.

The thought processes just seemed so muddled and in these next two games there needs to be a back-to-basics mentality that sees us playing to our strengths, with Conor Murray to the fore.

The main thing is still to get out of the group and I've no doubt that they still will. Personally, I don't think there's a huge amount still between playing South Africa and New Zealand. The fact of the matter is that the big picture shows how badly things can go if Ireland are off their game, but we all know the capability if they're at or near their best.

Peaking in terms of the performance is infinitely more important than who is on the other side of the line.

Against Russia and Samoa, if they're structured and disciplined - two things distinctly lacking on Saturday - they should definitely be banking the 10 points they need to absolutely guarantee a spot in the last eight.

The World Cup isn't over, no matter how it felt on Saturday.

Murphy's arrival will be like breath of fresh air for whole camp

As bad as it is for Jack Conan, I'm delighted to see Jordi Murphy get his reward in the end.

The native Dubliner was giving up a lot when he left Leinster for Ulster last summer and it was all with a view to him getting out to Japan for this World Cup.

He'll have thought his chance was gone, but injuries are unfortunately a part of tournament rugby and he'll have stayed sharp just in case.

After the result at the weekend, he'll be relied upon to bring energy and positivity to the camp now, really throw himself into things because a new face on a tour this long can give everyone a bit of a lift.

Four years ago at the World Cup we had Mike McCarthy and Isaac Boss come out to join us and you couldn't ask for two better people to be filling that role.

They didn't even play but they brought so much buzz to the general atmosphere.

In contrast, I wouldn't be surprised to see Jordi playing a decent bit of rugby over the next few weeks. He's fresh and he knows a chance he thought had gone has belatedly arrived.

Most of his opportunities for Ireland of late have come with an eight on his back and that's probably gone against him given how much of his rugby at Ulster was being played as an openside. There's a real lack of natural No.8s in the squad now in Conan's absence but I'd be surprised if we don't see him playing at seven now.

The biggest difference is the set-piece detail, controlling at the base of the scrum and what all three roles are doing in the line-out. That's tough, it really is.

Someone like Jordi is expected to know all those variations for every play.

There's pressure there but, wherever he plays, he'll be raring to go.

Schmidt has just cause to bemoan side's ref justice

Referees have unfortunately been a hot topic in this competition already. It's a tough job, but the high tackle has been a real issue.

We all want players to go low, but with the best stars in the world, the threat of the offload is so huge that they don't want to leave themselves vulnerable.

If we're not going to pick a law and consistently apply it, then I really don't know what the answer is, and it's one thing at the minute that makes me really glad I'm not out there anymore.

It was a different story with Angus Gardner and Ireland on Saturday. I was never one to blame referees for defeats in my career, and I don't want to start now, but he was absolutely horrendous, just so trigger happy. It's rare for Joe Schmidt to engage in chat about the referee during the week but he obviously expected a tough day at the office with him. It was certainly that.

Japanese players did so well in holding the Irish in at the breakdown. As a former openside, that's something you admire, but the game has changed now and the referees in recent times have become wise to it. The Irish breakdown was slow all day but Japan didn't roll away and weren't penalised. Why would they stop then?

Obviously the big ones that irked Schmidt were the offsides. In other games you get away with those but Gardner was just so pedantic.

Knowing the way Joe treats the discipline of his side, he'll have been enraged by the decisions but, thankfully on another day, those things aren't even picked up. The difference a referee can make to a contest at this level is incredible.

We'll just have to pray they don't see Gardner again in this tournament!

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