Japan coach Jamie Joseph expects a reaction from his team following a disappointing 50-22 defeat in the first of two test matches against Ireland.
The Brave Blossoms rallied in the final 20 minutes of the game to score three tries, giving the scoreline a respectable look, yet were outplayed for the first hour and could have easily lost by more.
A 22-point defeat to the side ranked number three in the world is by no means a disgrace, though the manner of the loss disappointed Joseph, particularly the lack of desire showed by the home team in the first half.
“The hunger and urgency wasn’t at the level for us to be able to compete with a very good team like Ireland,” Joseph said at the end of Monday’s training session at Tatsumi Rugby Park. “We prepared well so I was disappointed and surprised. It has put pressure on selection because for me personally these traits are non-negotiable.”
A yellow card in the 25th minute for Heiichiro Ito for killing the ball in the deck certainly didn’t help. Ireland scored 21 points in the 10 minutes he was sat in the sin bin.
“That basically put the game out of reach,” Joseph said. “It killed our confidence, but we aren’t using that as an excuse. We paid the price for a poor performance and the players have to be held accountable.
“That said, I was pleased with how we finished. The young guys who came into the game in the second half really showed the way, set the right example and that’s the type of player I am after.”
The former Highlanders’ coach has been forced to call on a number of youngsters as the Japan squad has been depleted by injury. Veteran Luke Thompson, who had a two-year stint at Irish rugby club Blackrock early in his playing career, has also been recalled despite announcing his retirement after the 2015 World Cup.
“What you’ve got to understand about Thomo’s selection is that we have five locks out,” said Joseph. “Right now there’s not much choice and he can give us some much needed experience. He’s won 60 caps for Japan and I completely trust his ability. He will be ready for Saturday’s game.”
Ireland are also without a number of key players. Eleven are away with the Lions on their tour of New Zealand, while Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney and Sean Cronin have all taken the summer off to recover from injuries. It’s a strong, but inexperienced squad with a few big names thrown in such as Simon Zebo and Keith Earls, who was the outstanding player in the opening fixture.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one particular area of strength with the Irish because they basically beat us everywhere on the pitch,” Joseph said. “What I was really impressed with was with their defense and scrum which put us under huge pressure.
“When we were able to play our game with speed we scored some good tries. The trouble is we only did for a short period in the match. You are talking about a professional rugby team playing against an amateur one. The difference was clearly there, but don’t worry – we’ll be back.”
The second test between Japan and Ireland takes place this Saturday at 2:40pm at the Ajinomoto Stadium.