Japan put in brave performance against Ireland

Rugby is often described as a sport for all sizes, but I’d expand that and say all religions, all cultures, all backgrounds, all genders….. therefore I’m delighted to see the Women’s Rugby World Cup, currently being held in Ireland, inspiring a new generation of female players across the globe.

As my wife is Irish and I love Japan, therefore watching Ireland vs Japan was going to be a highlight for me during the tournament. From the kick off, I was delighted to see a tough fought match, with Ireland staging a second-half comeback to survive a major scare and keeping alive their hopes of making the Women’s Rugby World Cup semi-finals.

A penalty try and a score by full-back Mayu Shimizu helped underdogs Japan to a shock 14-0 half-time lead. At this stage Ireland must of been thinking what had happened! Two touchdowns by replacement Paula Fitzpatrick and one from Alison Miller saw Ireland bounce back, with Nora Stapleton kicking nine points.

Ireland are aiming to at least emulate their feat of three years ago when they managed to reach the semi-finals, before losing to eventual winners England, but only the three group winners and the best performing runners-up will make the last four.

With their side lying nine places above Japan in the world rankings and having seen off their opponents twice in warm-up games in June, Ireland possibly went into this match expecting a cricket score, however never write off Japan, who dominated possession and territory in the first half as Ireland were outplayed in every element of the game and were forced into a series of basic handling errors.

Full-back Mairead Coyne was fortunate to escape a yellow card for a high tackle before Japan were rewarded for their superiority with a 27th-minute try.  Then Referee Ian Tempest awarded a penalty try after the hosts were penalised for collapsing the scrum following a drive by the Japanese forwards from a five-metre scrum.

Shimizu wrong-footed the Irish defence and dived over three minutes before the interval, then added the extra points to increase her side’s advantage. Ireland’s woes were compounded soon after the resumption when Katie Fitzhenry paid the price for repeated Irish high tackles by receiving a yellow card. In this era, you have to tackle low, so a yellow was reckless considering the position Ireland found themselves in.

As much as you never underestimated the Japanese, you never (never!) write off the Irish and despite being a player down, the momentum soon swung in favour of Ireland, inspired by their hard-working forwards.

Winger Miller went over in the 45th minute, with Stapleton converting to half their side’s deficit, then Fitzpatrick dotted down after Ireland set up a rolling maul from a lineout, the hosts’ fly-half again kicking the additional points.

Spurred on by the home crowd, Ireland began to pile on the pressure in search of victory and after putting together 19 phases of play, Japan were punished for an infringement by a Stapleton penalty. Fitzpatrick ploughed over from close range for her second in the final play of the game, with Stapleton’s conversion ensuring a 10-point winning margin for the resilient but relieved Irish.

“The courage that we showed on Wednesday to beat Australia came through again. We showed resilience and managed to get the result,” said Ireland captain Claire Molloy stated to the BBC. “We have a lot to work on. We were very unhappy with our handling and with the breakdown so we need to fix that.”

The Womens Rugby World Cup is being a fantastic advert for the game and the timing couldn’t be better, with the kids off school able to watch matches on TV and then recreate their heroes in the park. Roll on a few weeks and the local clubs will be looking for new female players, eager to learn…so massive potential for the growth of the game.

As stated before Ireland, New Zealand or England should lift the trophy at the end of the tournament and if I was a betting man I might just wager £10 on …. ah, its too close to call. Sit back, enjoy the sport and lets’ see a wonderful advert for the game.