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Thursday 17 October 2019

Ireland's 2017 visit caused Japan to switch focus

CHANGE: Japan’s head coach Jamie Joseph. Photo: Ashley Western/PA Wire
CHANGE: Japan’s head coach Jamie Joseph. Photo: Ashley Western/PA Wire

The draw for the Rugby World Cup took place in Kyoto on May 10th on 2017. One month later, the process that has taken Japan through the four-year cycle was given a 'think again' review when Ireland travelled for those two tests in an interesting coincidence.

The Irish hammered home their superiority for an aggregate return of 85 points for and 35 against.

Interestingly, the Japanese were given 'outside assistance' by half-a-dozen players - Australian William Tupou, New Zealanders Derek Carpenter, Hendrik Tui and Leitch, Tongans Uwe Helu and Amanaki Mafi -in the first test.

This was reduced to four one week later with Kiwi Luke Thompson coming in and Tupou, Carpenter and Tui losing out.

2017: JAPAN v Ireland, Ecopa Stadium, Japan

R Noguchi; K Matsushima, W Tupou, T Lafaele, K Fukuoka; Y Tamura, F Tanaka; K Inagaki, S Horie (capt), H Ito, K Yatabe, U Helu, M Leitch, Y Tokunaga, A Mafi.

Coach Jamie Joseph came to the conclusion that the Irish forwards had to be confronted when the World Cup came around.

In 2017, he was able to lean on the experience of six starters and two replacements from that unforgettable day in 2015 when South Africa were humbled.

Of them, full-back Kotaro Matsushimo, moving from wing, hooker Shota Horie and blindside Michael Leitch are the select three that started against South Africa in 2015 and Russia in 2019.

Second row Luke Thompson, number eight Hendrik Tui and scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka all dropped to the bench last Friday.

Prop Keita Inagaki moved from replacement in 2015 to starter in 2019.

Back rower Amanaki Mafi moved down from the bench in 2015 to failing to make the match day 23.

There has also been a commitment from Joseph to enlist the help of overseas muscle to help combat the power of Ireland and Scotland's big men.

In November 2017, South African Wimpie van der Walt made his international debut against Australia.

In July of this year, ex-Cheetahs and Bulls flanker Pieter 'Lappies' Labuschagne captained Japan on his test debut against Fiji.

In the same test, Australian James Moore lock joined Thompson for his first taste.nied the World Cup by injury.

By the time opening night arrived last Friday, Joseph had reworked his forward pack to include just one Japanese man - Kazuki Himeno - in the back-five quintet to go along with backs Tupou, Timothy Lafaele and Lomano Lemeki.

The question is - has Joseph's need for muscle dispensed with Japanese magic along the way?

2019: JAPAN v Russia, Tokyo

W Tupou; K Matsushimo, T Lafaele, R Nakamura, L Lemeki; Y Tamura, Y Nagare; K Inagaki, S Horie, A Valu, W van der Walt, J Moore, M Leitch, P Labuschagne, K Himeno.

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