Ireland captain Rory Best admitted that his men were left “chasing shadows” in their shock World Cup defeat by Japan, adding that the side had been unable to provide “the right answers” to the hosts’ ferocious and spirited display.
Four years on from their famous win over South Africa, the Brave Blossoms fought back from two tries down to record yet another historic victory at the tournament, beating the Irish 19-12 in Shizuoka.
The result now places Japan, who beat Russia in their opening match, in pole position to qualify for their first-ever World Cup quarter-final, with fixtures against Samoa and Scotland to follow.
“We knew how tough it was going to be, anyone who is utterly shock hasn’t seen how good they were,” Best said in the wake of defeat. “We had a game plan and were prepared, we made a few mistakes and were on the wrong side of the penalty count.
“But Japan played really and posed us a lot of questions, unfortunately we couldn’t come up with the right answers.
“When you play the host team it’s always tough, we didn’t start how we wanted and we let them play, sometimes we were chasing shadows. You have to give credit to Japan, they attacked us minute after minute.
“We have to dust ourselves down and get better.”
Ireland had claimed the lead through Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney – both of which came as a result of some smart kicking from fly-half Jack Carty – but failed to capitalise on their bright start as the Japanese set about eroding their opponents’ lead.
After three first-half penalties from Yu Tamura took the score to 9-12, the hosts landed the killer blow on the 60-minute mark, Kenki Fukuoka dotting down near the left-hand corner to cap off a bruising team effort.
A fourth Tamura penalty extended Japan’s lead before Fukuoka came within metres of a second following an interception in his own half.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt was magnanimous in defeat as he praised the hosts for their resilient performance.
“Congratulations to Japan, what a furious and intense effort it was,” he said. “We knew it was potentially coming. They are a tremendous side and did really well.”
Japan captain Pieter Labuschagne said afterwards: “We are really happy, it is difficult to put it into words, just proud of every boy. That was a great game (against South Africa), but we came into this tournament with a new goal and knew what we wanted to do. We backed ourselves going into this game.
“I just want to thank each and everyone for coming out to support us, you were amazing.”
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