Rampant Irish break Japan's will

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The Independent Online

As expected, Ireland overwhelmed world rugby's minnows Japan in this one-sided joust here yesterday. In the process, the rampant Irish scored 11 tries to send a clear warning signal to next Sunday's opponents, South Africa, that they mean business.

As expected, Ireland overwhelmed world rugby's minnows Japan in this one-sided joust here yesterday. In the process, the rampant Irish scored 11 tries to send a clear warning signal to next Sunday's opponents, South Africa, that they mean business.

After an unsettled opening 20 minutes, the captain Keith Wood and his team-mates ran in four first half touchdowns. The Japanese resistance was patently broken at this stage and the second half was the proverbial cakewalk.

When the massacre had been completed, no fewer than three players' CVs had been significantly enhanced. Ireland's bright young wing Denis Hickie was one of them. The St Mary's speed merchant scored a hat-trick of tries, the first of his career. The first two, scored in the opening period, were out of the top drawer. And the third, just before the final whistle, merely underlined the dominance of the host team.

Another of Ireland's talented young performers Brian O'Driscoll benefited. The Blackrock centre secured two tries and the Ulster wing Tyrone Howe marked his first appearance at Lansdowne Road in an international with a brace of touchdowns.

The only surprise was that Wood did not get among yesterday's scorers. But he tried desperately hard, particularly in the first half. He said afterwards: "The game went the way we expected in the first half. But I was disappointed with the number of unforced errors we made. The Japanese proved to be quite good scrummagers. But they couldn't match us in the line-outs, because of their lack of inches."

Ireland broke the tenuous Japanese stranglehold after 23 minutes. The full-back Geordan Murphy, making his home debut, obliged with a try, although he had to scrape the ball off the ground following a somewhat wild delivery.

Ireland, struggling and fumbling possession with irritating frequency, now had the platform to perform. First, Peter Stringer opened up his international account in the 29th minute to put the finishing touch to an inventive movement launched by the centre Shane Horgan.

The immensely talented winger Hickie skated over for the first of his three tries in the 32nd minute, thanks to a superb pass from O'Driscoll. The Dubliner brought his international tally to seven tries shortly before the interval with a brilliant solo score, flying across the pitch in a curving run before straightening out. He then dummied his way through the Japanese cover before racing in for a delightful score.

The second half was purely academic. But it did not stop the Irish from taking advantage of a Japanese defence which has now conceded 201 points in only three games. Their build-up for the World Cup in 2003 is turning into a painful experience.

And the Irish showed no mercy, certainly not in the second half as almost every member of the home side tried to get on the scoresheet. But it was reduced to Howe and O'Driscoll bagging a pair of tries and with Peter Clohessy, Rob Henderson and Hickie contributing one apiece.

The occasion gave the out-half Ronan O'Gara the opportunity to polish his place-kicking. And this the Munster man duly did, kicking 10 conversions and a solitary penalty goal to earn the surprising Man of the Match accolade.

As usual, the Japan out-half Keiji Hirose was their only contributor. The diminutive No 10 was on target with three first-half penalties to bring his personal tally in 32 international outings to 212 points.

Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); D Hickie (St Mary's College), B O'Driscoll (Blackrock College), S Horgan (Lansdowne), T Howe (Dungannon); R O'Gara (Cork Constitution), P Stringer (Shannon); P Clohessy (Young Munster), K Wood (Harlequins), J Hayes (Shannon), P Johns (Dungannon), M O'Kelly (St Mary's College), A Ward (Ballynahinch), K Dawson (London Irish), A Foley (Shannon).

Japan: D Ohata; M Oda, R Kawai, H Namba, P Tuidraki; K Hirose, K Ohara (capt); T Fumihara, N Yasuda, N Nakamura, K Todd, H Tanuma, H Sugawara, T Ito, K Kubo.

Referee: N Whitehouse (Wales).

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