Preview: Ireland v Japan

Ireland can take a huge step towards the quarter-finals on Saturday when they face Japan.

Ireland can take a huge step towards the quarter-finals on Saturday when they face Japan.

The omens are good for Joe Schmidt’s side, they have won all seven of their previous meetings against the Brave Blossoms, and all of them by at least a 20-point margin.

Schmidt’s side began Pool A in impressive fashion with a bonus-point win over Scotland and are still to concede a try at this Rugby World Cup.

Of course, a World Cup is no ordinary Test match and the tournament hosts Japan are cock-a-hoop after their opening night win over Russia.

They also welcome back No.8 Amanaki Mafi – meaning skipper Michael Leitch has to settle for a spot on the bench, while Ryohei Yamanaka comes in at full-back.

Ireland have also made some changes, notably in their backline where Johnny Sexton is not risked after aggravating a quad injury so Jack Carty starts at No.10 while there are also returns for the experienced Rob Kearney and Keith Earls, with Chris Farrell coming into the midfield.

Up front, Jack Conan’s late withdrawal with a foot problem means the starting pack remains the same as the one that comprehensively outplayed Scotland last weekend.

Ireland have played the host team on home soil four times previously at World Cups, and lost all four.

Put that record to bed on Saturday in Shizuoka, and with only Russia and Samoa remaining in their way in Pool A, the last eight will be within touching distance.

Japan v Ireland, Saturday September 28, Shizuoka, Kick off 8:15AM (BST)

Joe Schmidt on the atmosphere he expects in Shizuoka

“They’re going to have a very vocal hometown crowd. It was great for us to play a ‘home match’ in Yokohama Stadium with The Fields of Athenry belting out and the amount of green jerseys and support we had.

“I think we might be in the minority this week and they’re going to have to give us as much volume as (they) can.”

Defence coach Andy Farrell on Jack Carty

“Jack’s strength is not just his work ethic to get across his detail, but also being himself. International rugby is a pressure occasion for anyone, especially when you’re coming into a side when you’re new to the environment and you’ve heard from the outside what it’s like.

“That’s the most important thing. You want to see guys in pivotal positions being able to retain the information, but also see the game as it is unfolding – and he’s comfortable doing that.”

Conor Murray on his own form following the Scotland win

“You look at your own performance first and foremost and I felt that during the last year I wasn’t too far off playing at my best. It’s not as if it went drastically wrong. As a nine or a 10, you’re going to get the plaudits when things go well and probably a little bit more criticism when things don’t go to plan.

“It’s something through my career I have got used to. At times I’ve probably struggled with it, but I’m aware of the way things work. I just focus on trying to get better, on trying to play as well as I know I can, week on week.

“Last week was a nice way to kick off the World Cup. This weekend is going to be a big occasion and hopefully we can put in a performance to match it.”

Japan got the bonus point win last Friday in the tournament opener, but fly-half Yu Tamura was not at his brilliant best.

The No.10 has all the skills in his locker and will need to get his backline firing if they are to unlock Andy Farrell’s well-drilled Ireland defence.

Up against him, Carty gets the nod ahead of the fit-again Joey Carbery as Sexton is not risked.

The Connacht No.10 has looked good every time he has pulled on the green jersey, including some impressive cameos off the bench in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.

His first World Cup start is in a huge game, against a Japan side who probably have one eye on their Scotland game at the end of the pool stages and can treat this like a free shot.

Ireland: 15. Rob Kearney, 14. Keith Earls, 13. Garry Ringrose, 12. Chris Farrell, 11. Jacob Stockdale, 10. Jack Carty, 9. Conor Muray, 1. Cian Healy, 2. Rory Best, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Iain Henderson, 5. James Ryan, 6. Peter O’Mahony, 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. CJ Stander

Replacements: 16. Sean Cronin, 17. Dave Kilcoyne, 18. Andrew Porter, 19. Tadhg Beirne, 20. Rhys Ruddock, 21. Luke McGrath, 22. Joey Carbery, 23. Jordan Larmour

Japan: 15. Ryohei Yamanaka, 14. Kotaro Matsushima, 13. Timothy Lafaele, 12. Ryoto Nakamura, 11. Will Tupou, 10. Yu Tamura, 9. Yutaka Nagare, 1. Keita Inagaki, 2. Shota Horie, 3. Jiwon Koo, 4. Luke Thompson, 5. James Moore, 6. Kazuki Himeno, 7. Pieter Labuschagne, 8. Amanaki Mafi

Replacements: 16. Atsushi Sakate, 17. Isileli Nakajima, 18. Asaeliai Valu, 19. Wimpie van der Walt, 20. Michael Leitch, 21. Fumiaki Tanaka, 22. Rikiya Matsuda, 23. Lomano Lemeki