Japan 19-12 Ireland: Brave Blossoms post incredible Rugby World Cup victory
Japan take charge of Rugby World Cup Pool A with victory
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 29/09/19 8:14am
A Kenki Fukuoka try with 20 minutes remaining, plus the boot of Yu Tamura, handed Japan a memorable Rugby World Cup Pool A 19-12 victory over Ireland.
Joe Schmidt's side went into a 12-3 first-half lead with tries from Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney, but Tamura cut the gap to 12-9 off the tee by the break.
Fukuoka then struck in dramatic circumstances in the second period, before Tamura added three more points with another penalty to put the game beyond Ireland.
No 8 Amanaki Mafi quelled Ireland's first sustained period of possession within the Japan 22 in the opening minutes with a turnover, and moments later the home side were almost over for the opening try at the other end.
Playing at brilliant tempo, Japan centre Timothy Lafaele eventually sent a dangerous grubber kick up the right wing, but the bounce of the ball just evaded the chasing Kotaro Matsushima as Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale remained calm to clear up.
On six minutes, Japan had a big chance for the lead when a combination of Peter O'Mahony and Cian Healy were penalised by referee Angus Gardner for going off-feet at the breakdown, but out-half Tamura dragged the kick to the left of the posts from 42 metres out centrally.
Inside the opening 10 minutes, Ireland worked their first clear opening when fly-half Jack Carty turned down the chance for a kick at goal in favour of a cross-field kick to the right, but though wing Keith Earls gathered, he just ran out of space in the corner to score.
On 14 minutes Ireland did notch the first score, though, as on penalty advantage, a fabulous cross-field Carty kick to Ringrose - who had remained out wide after his initial break up the right touchline - saw the centre claim the ball above Japan full-back Ryohei Yamanaka, before turning and grounding.
Japan wing Lomano Lemeki - a late call-up to the starting XV - got up to reclaim the restart for Japan, however, and when CJ Stander was then pinged for offside within his own half, Tamura cut the Ireland lead back to 5-3 off the tee.
Ireland responded with a scrum penalty on 20 minutes, and elected to kick to the corner through Carty. A minute later, they were over for their second try through Kearney.
The score came again on penalty advantage and again via the boot of Carty, as the Connacht 10 chipped over the Japan defence and got up to bat the ball back for his full-back, with Kearney regathering before diving over. Carty converted also for a 12-3 lead.
Six minutes from the half, Tamura got the deficit back to 12-6 when Conor Murray was penalised at the breakdown, while in the closing stages of the first period the difference was back to three points when Tamura struck a superb penalty from over 40 metres out after Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier became trapped.
Japan continued playing two minutes into dead time as their confidence had gained immeasurably from the start of the Test, and in the end Ireland were relieved to head in at half-time with a slender 12-9 lead.
Ireland earned a scrum penalty 10 minutes into the second half and chose to kick to the corner through Carty, but a crucial seven-metre attacking lineout was stolen as the chance evaporated.
Ireland were nearly made to pay for that profligacy when Tamura struck wide on 55 minutes off the tee, as O'Mahony was pinged for going off feet at the breakdown.
And then Japan were handed a super attacking platform with 20 minutes left when Ireland pair Stander and Chris Farrell got in a mess off a defensive scrum and were pinged for accidental offside, handing Japan the set-piece within the Ireland 22.
Off that scrum, a lovely Fumiaki Tanaka flat pass set the backs in motion and when the ball was shifted wide, replacement Fukuoka went over untouched as the man in space.
Tamura converted to leave Ireland needing a try, but Schmidt's men were well-positioned soon after within the Japan 22. The attack was ended, however, when Kazuki Himeno earned a huge breakdown penalty.
With nine minutes remaining, Japan stretched their lead to seven points when Tamura bisected the posts with Ireland ruled offside again just outside their 22.
The Irish failed to make inroads, though, as the game reached its conclusion, and ended it themselves as replacement Joey Carbery surprisingly kicked the ball out after the final gong.
It left the Brave Blossoms to celebrate another monumental World Cup success to sit alongside their remarkable victory over the Springboks in Brighton four years ago.