There was a sense of relief as much as celebration in the aftermath of Ireland’s opening World Cup victory against Scotland. No one was really sure how much to expect from the Irish, after an underwhelming warm up campaign. Added to that the known dangers that Scotland could pose, and optimism was guarded at best.
Worries were laid to rest early on as Ireland rushed into a 12-0 lead with tries from James Ryan and Rory Best, with the latter’s line out throws also a positive throughout Sunday’s performance. Furlong and Conway crossed the whitewash to complete a 27-3 demolition with very little in the way of negatives for Joe Schmidt’s side.
Japan got off to a rocky start in the opening match of their home world cup, trailing 7-0 after five minutes. That start was an aberration though, and Japan recovered confidently to win 30-10. Matsushima was there stand out performer, the winger scoring a hat trick of tries in a fine display of finishing.
Both sides will be pleased with the start they’ve made. Ireland will be expecting to top the group now and face South Africa in the quarter finals, while Japan’s big test will surely come against Scotland, in a game that will likely decide who finishes second in the pool.
Johnny Sexton is out with a minor thigh injury, so Jack Carty deputises in his absence. He’s a solid fly-half in his own right and the experience of Connor Murray inside him will be a big help. Rob Kearney and Keith Earls return to the fold after missing the Scotland game. That means Larmour and Conway miss out. Ringrose partners Farrell in midfield in what looks like a very strong Irish side.
Japan are no walk over by any means. Although not at tier one status yet, they are certainly one of the ‘best of the rest’ in world rugby. Expect them to put on a brave showing in front of a passionate home crowd. Ireland were excellent against Scotland and come into a game with positivity for the first time in six months. Murray and Carty are good enough to control a game that the Japanese would perhaps like to become chaotic. Perhaps this is the game Gary Ringrose reasserts himself as a certain starter in Ireland’s first choice midfield. Take Ireland to ease clear after an hour or so of resistance from Japan.