Ireland’s new centre partnership scored a try each in a highly entertaining 39-31 win over Japan at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
In Ireland’s first Test match since finishing third in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, Chris Farrell and Stuart McCloskey crossed the whitewash in the first half to help tame an extremely creative Japanese side that scored four fantastic tries.
With a number of regular starters away with the British & Irish Lions, including centres Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki, while Garry Ringrose is injured, the new-look midfield used the opportunity to shine.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) July 3, 2021
IRELAND’S CENTRES MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
After Japan kicked an early penalty, Ireland scored the first try of the game through Farrell following a series of passes off nine which created space for the centre to burst through.
The try was converted by Joey Carbery, however, Michael Leitch responded just minutes later by crossing the whitewash from the back of a driving maul.
Japan seemed to be in the ascendency, were 10-7 ahead as the 20-minute mark approached and some good pressure from the Cherry Blossoms nearly led to their second try of the afternoon.
Timothy Lafaele hit a hard line off a pop pass from Yu Tamura and went through a tight gap before scoring under the posts, but the Tamura pass was judged to have been forward and the try was disallowed.
The third try of the afternoon finally came through McCloskey, who took advantage of an Irish overlap by connecting well with Jacob Stockdale in the corner to create enough space for him to touch down.
A failed conversion attempt meant Ireland’s centre partnership had put them 12-10 ahead and, after Japan missed a penalty, it seemed like the hosts had taken control.
JAPAN WON’T LIE DOWN AND A MOMENT OF MAGIC
You can never count the Brave Blossoms out though and after changing the point of attack in midfield, a cross-field kick from Tamura created space for Siosaia Fifita and he popped the ball to Lafaele who scored in the corner.
Finlay Bealham finished off a great half of rugby with a try after the tighthead prop stormed over the line from close range following a series of picks from the back of the ruck.
After half-time, Fifita scored a superb try for Japan after Tamura grubbered a ball through to the winger whilst running at full speed down the left, before Fifita recovered and crossed the whitewash to put Japan ahead once again.
The conversion was missed, and things got worse for Japan as Josh van der Flier crossed from another short distance pick and go after Jamison Gibson-Park made a monstrous carry to get Ireland up towards the try line.
HOSTS TAKE CONTROL
Stockdale then got a try of his own after numerous intense Irish carries sucked in the Japanese defence leaving the winger with plenty of space out wide to score.
Just when it looked like Ireland were finally getting a grip on the game, Japan conjured something out of nothing again as they flooded players down the blind side, which led to four offloads in quick succession to put Yuya Saito through to score.
It was a two-point game until Ireland kicked a penalty to put themselves 36-31 ahead and another Carbery penalty extended the Irish lead to eight points with ten minutes remaining.
𝙃𝙊𝙒 𝙂𝙊𝙊𝘿! 🙌💚
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) July 3, 2021
WHAT THEY SAID
Caelan Doris said: “It’s so special having fans back, especially family and friends, it’s been a long time having them watching from home.
“You can feel the extra energy in the boys in here so even though it’s only 3,000 it’s a good place to start and it’s so good to have them back
“Japan are obviously a quality side, we’ll be frustrated looking back at some of our inaccuracies after we scored and letting them back in.
“We’ve spoken about being a next moment team and moving on regardless of if the last one’s been positive or negative so that’s definitely going to be something we’ll look at and try to work on.
“Japan are a quality side and they definitely tested us, you could see that in some of the tries they scored out of nothing down the short side.
“They have the ability to offload and create something out of nothing.