Joe Schmidt has always cried foul against the accusation that Ireland are dull in attack.
He has found fault with the related jibe that they kick more than most and rely too heavily on a layered and intricate level of repetition and functionality with the ball in hand.
What Ireland wouldn’t have given for that sort of control here today.
They knew what not to do. Surely, they knew that. If Japan were going to trouble the Six Nations side then they were going to do it by injecting a sort of chaotic madness into the game and by stretching their vaunted opponents out wide.
Another dose of the medicine that did for the Scots looked to be the answer. Squeeze the hosts. Dominate them up front. Silence the home supporters that made up the vast majority of the 50,000-plus crowd and who came to cheer every line break and lineout take.
Schmidt had promised a more expansive game than the forward-dominated operation that claimed that 27-3 win in Yokohama last Sunday though and they started off here with Jack Carty pinging balls left and right to huge effect.
This wasn’t just strategy, it was art, each one an elegant and precise brushstroke on canvas. By the end of the first quarter Ireland had two tries on the board and led 12-3. Sweet. Another ten minutes of that and this was one was done.
So, how to explain what happened next? How does it compute that Ireland went the next 40 minutes of play without landing a single blow of any type? Or the last hour without a score. How does a side renowned for its control lose, so dramatically, its grip of a game that was theirs for the taking?
Schmidt had warned months and months ago that Ireland had a six-day turnaround leading into this and that the Japanese would avail of 48 hours more rest. Some of Ireland’s play was clearly tired here from early on. The rush defence wasn’t there and Cian Healy was off shortly after the break dousing himself with water as the conditions took their toll.
But if that was a factor then how does it explain the botched lineouts, the excessive number of penalties they coughed up, Carty kicking a restart all the way into the Japanese in-goal area or any other number of small errors that added up to a sizeable effect?
And they all happened in the first-half.
Ireland had the chance to collect themselves at the interval. Physically and mentally. They had a man deemed to be one of the smartest coaches in the game to help clear their minds and re-establish some equilibrium, not to mention a host of experienced players in their ranks.
Didn’t happen. Momentum can be a terrible thing on days like this.
You could say that the game continued to slip away from them but that would be to absolve the favourites of blame. Simple mistakes continued to kill them: a silly Keith Earls offload here, a failure to man a ruck in the Japanese 22 and concede a turnover there.
Even Japan’s try had its origins in an Irish error after Chris Farrell ran into CJ Stander and coughed up a free. By the end, we had the sight of Joey Carbery kicking to touch at the final whistle to preserve what may yet be a crucial losing bonus point.
Japan were more than good enough to take full advantage of all this. Every mistake Ireland made breathed new life into the fire that was enveloping them and it would be churlish not to note what an effect this result will have here and maybe further afield.
This was meant to be a World Cup that would help rugby take a firmer root in the Far East. That’s far more likely now. As for Ireland? They came to this World Cup to make history. They’ve achieved that.
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