Hosts Japan pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Rugby World Cup history as they beat world number two-ranked Ireland 19-12 in Shizuoka.
Tries from Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney saw Ireland lead at the break, although three Yu Tamura penalties kept the game to within one score.
Replacement Kenki Fukuoka dived over in the corner on 59 minutes to put the Brave Blossoms in front.
Tamura’s 72nd-minute penalty sealed a monumental win.
Not since Japan’s win over South Africa four years ago in Brighton has rugby witnessed a result that will resound around the world in the way this one will.
This was not a result borne of Irish indiscipline or stage fright, but of a truly stunning Japanese performance in front of a cacophonous crowd that lifted their side with a stunning noise that greeted every metre gained, tackle made and turnover won.
It is a result that will, regardless of what happens in the next six weeks of rugby, leave a legacy for generations to come, and will send rugby into a new stratosphere of popularity within the country.
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Hosts stay true to attacking philosophy
From the start, it became clear that Japan had no interest in curtailing their fast-paced, free-moving gameplan against one of the rugby’s most-respected defences.
Only a bad bounce denied Kotaro Matsushima an opening try after four minutes as the hosts stretched Ireland’s defence from left to right before Tamura’s kick behind nearly paid off.
It looked as though Ireland had weathered an early storm, as Ringrose and Kearney’s tries eight minutes apart looked to have bought the favourites some breathing space that could have quietened the Japanese majority inside Stadium Ecopa.
However the fans, and the team, were unrelenting and Japan did not turn to a Plan B.
Another lightning-fast move from left to right, a slick one-handed offload from Timothy Lafaele and a kick in-behind saw Matsushima again denied by a bouncing ball which this time favoured Josh van der Flier, who did well to set up an Irish exit from under their own posts.
The introduction of Michael Leitch, Japan’s already legendary captain whose relegation to the bench was the cause of some controversy in the build-up, sent excitement levels in the stadium to a new level after 31 minutes.
Leitch responded immediately with a shuddering clear-out of Kearney as Japan pressed forward, carrying the momentum towards half-time.
The pressure was eventually rewarded as Van der Flier was pinged for impatience at the breakdown, allowing Tamura to narrow the gap to three points at half-time.
The second half carried on in the same way the first had ended: Japan attack, Ireland repel.
The familiar signs that tend to crop up when Ireland are not functioning began to re-appear – missed line-outs, dropped catches and a knock-on after winning a scrum inside their own 22 as the pressure continued to build.
From the scrum, Japan went left and Fukuoka was sent over in the corner.
Irish script in tatters
From an Irish perspective, there was little to fear off the back of a physically dominant performance over Scotland a week ago.
The feeling, after a year of struggling to hit the heights of 2018, was that Joe Schmidt’s side were nearing at peak at just the right time.
Indeed, even an injury to long-time talisman Johnny Sexton did little to halt the feel-good factor in the camp.
Jack Carty, on only his second international start, began well and showed little fear with his nerveless kicks from hand leading to the two Irish tries.
Inside the opening 20 minutes, Rory Best was on target with all six of his line-out throws.
Everything that had to go to plan was going that way – but what followed was not something that many could have expected.
Aside from their two scores, the vast majority of Ireland’s time was spent in defence in the energy-sapping afternoon heat.
What began as a typically efficient performance began to unravel as errors slipped into their the game.
Carty was guilty of kicking a restart dead before the Irish pack, totally dominant six days ago, were turned over on their own scrum as Japan began to smell blood.
Ireland’s front-loaded schedule meant that wins in their opening two fixtures would allow some senior players a rest before the probable semi-final.
However, the five-day turnaround before Thursday’s match against Russia now becomes a much more daunting task, and the fitness of Sexton, whose composure and defensive solidity was badly missed in the second half, will be placed under the microscope far more than it would have been had they got the job done in Shizuoka.
- This was Japan’s first ever victory against Ireland in Test rugby. They had lost each of their previous seven by an average margin of 31 points.
- Three of Ireland’s last four pool stage defeats at the Rugby World Cup have come against the host nation, also losing to Australia in 2003 and France in 2007 (also v Argentina in 2007).
- Japan have won five of their last six matches at the Rugby World Cup, this after winning just one of their initial 24 matches at the tournament.
- Ireland lost to a non-Tier One nation at the Rugby World Cup for the first time, having won each of their previous 15 such games.
- Japan won a Rugby World Cup match after trailing at half-time for just the second time in 24 attempts.
- Rob Kearney has scored four tries in his last five Rugby World Cup games. He has five tries in the tournament overall, only Keith Earls (8) and Brian O’Driscoll (7) have more for Ireland.
- Garry Ringrose has scored in each of his three Test appearances against Japan, crossing three times in total, more than he’s scored against any other nation.
- No side has lost a match at the Rugby World Cup and gone on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
Japan: Yamanaka; Matsushima, Lafaele, Nakamura, Lemeki; Tamura, Nagare; Inagaki, Horie, Koo, Thompson, Moore, Himeno, Labuschagne, Mafi.
Replacements: Fukuoka, Tanaka, Nakajima, Ai Valu, van der Walt, Leitch, Sakate, Matsuda.
Ireland: Kearney; Earls, Ringrose, Farrell, Stockdale; Carty, Murray, Healy, Best, Furlong, Henderson, J Ryan, O’Mahony, Van der Flier, Stander.
Replacements: McGrath, Larmour, Carbery, Kilcoyne, Cronin, Porter, Beirne, Ruddock.
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