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Ireland vs Japan: Five reasons Japan believe they can shock Ireland at the Rugby World Cup


Surging on: Lomano Lemeki of Japan makes a break during the hosts’ win over Russia
Surging on: Lomano Lemeki of Japan makes a break during the hosts’ win over Russia
Luke Thompson
Uwe Helu
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

With Ireland tucked out of the way an hour or so's drive from Shizuoka this week, the sole residents of the Katsurgai Hotel must feel very much in their own bubble as they prepare to face Japan on Saturday in Pool A's second round of fixtures.

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The World Cup hosts, in contrast, have been right in the centre of Hamamatsu offering interesting tidbits over the past few days at their daily briefings.

Although they've paid their respects to Ireland at various points, most striking of all has been their confidence with Lomano Lemeki yesterday even offering the precise prediction of a 33-26 win.

"We've trained hard and Johnny Sexton is not 100 per cent," he said.

Here, we look at the other reasons Jamie Joseph's men think they're set to topple the second-ranked side in the world.

1. Complacency

Joe Schmidt's teams would rarely be accused of taking opposition lightly, the coach so often at pains to talk up even the most limited of opponent. Yesterday provided the World Cup's first major shock, however, with Uruguay overcoming Fiji in Kamaishi, Los Teros' first win at this tournament for 16 years a reminder of what can happen when superior opposition aren't in the right headspace entering a game.

Lock Uwe Helu said: "Everyone expects Ireland to win because they're No.1 (actually two) at the moment.

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"I think they will look down on us, that's for sure. And we'll do everything when we get our chance.

"I think every game for us is a final so we'll give everything. We're hosting the World Cup. There's nothing for us to leave behind so I think every game we have to give everything."

2. Extra rest

In the immediate aftermath of the Scotland victory, Schmidt had Japan on his mind, quickly lamenting the short turnaround to the game.

Peter O'Mahony, Bundee Aki and Johnny Sexton are all set to be absent having missed parts of training earlier in the week, while Japan will benefit from an extra 48 hours worth of preparation.

It's a stark contrast to 2015 of course, when Japan infamously had to face Scotland just four days after their historic win over the Springboks in a game that ultimately decided their quarter-final fate.

Lock Luke Thompson, now at his fourth World Cup, said: "It's huge.

"We're very grateful that we have that week turnaround on every game. There's no excuses for us. To turnaround and play a Test match quicker, I feel sympathy for Russia and Samoa, to be honest.

"They have to deal with those turnarounds and it's unfortunate for them."

3. Ireland's defence

Helu for one was certainly willing to talk openly about what Japan saw when Ireland played Scotland.

The aggressive linespeed of Andy Farrell's defence worked to perfection against Ireland's Six Nations rivals, making the Scots look rushed in possession with errors following.

A key moment in the game was when Jacob Stockdale burst from the line to smash Stuart Hogg and shut down one attack.

Had the Ulster wing mistimed his effort though, Hogg had Seymour on his outside while their sole penalty came from an attack that promised much more until a Sean Maitland pass didn't go to hand.

Japan pride themselves on the accuracy of their handling in attack, something they'll need to get to the outside of Ireland's rush.

If they do though, there is some space to exploit.

"For me, watching that I feel we'll have some opportunities," Helu said.

"Should I tell you? Like when they defend they get quite close to each other. (Out wide), that's where I think the space is."

4. High ball

Japan were no strangers to struggles under the high ball themselves in their opening game, their rugby league convert Will Tupou at full-back especially, but it's another area in Ireland's game that the Brave Blossoms have said they'll look to exploit.

Both Andrew Conway and Stockdale misplayed a ball aerially, gifting Scotland a lineout and scrum in Irish territory. Multiple players, though, have cited the effect of the light rain prior to kick-off in producing a slippery ball that was mishandled on multiple occasions.

Centre Tim Lafaele noted: "There were a few dropped high balls.

"We'll see what the game plan is for the week and if it's to put those bombs up, we'll put them up and chase well and put some pressure on."

Ireland will be at pains to avoid giving Japan an easy platform from which to launch attacks.

5. Tony Brown

A huge reason for that will be the presence of Tony Brown, the attack coach for Jamie Joseph's men.

Set to return to the Highlanders after the tournament, Brown has even been touted as a future All Blacks coach in recent months as he continues to build an impressive CV.

While far from dominant at the set-piece, Japan are hugely inventive when they reach full flow, capable of playing a mesmerising brand of rugby that flickered only briefly in the win over Russia.

Brown is oft-cited as the mastermind behind such style with Schmidt a known admirer too.

"He actually came in and spent three days with us in the national set-up - and it wasn't too long after that, that we ended up playing against a Tony Brown-coached side, along with Jamie Joseph, in the 2017 summer tour," remembered Schmidt this week.

"So I think he brings a real understanding of the game and a willingness to play, an encouragement to take a few risks but to be working hard enough on the skill base you have to be able to maximise the potential for those risks to have positive outcomes."

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