The worst result in Irish sports history?
That’s what some are calling Ireland’s shock defeat to Japan in the Rugby World Cup on Saturday.
Joe Schmidt’s men were beaten 19-12 by the host nation, having led 12-3 after 20 minutes.
The surprise defeat blows Pool A wide open, and raises huge question marks over whether Ireland can make it further than the quarter-finals this time around.
Here are the main talking points from the shock result at Shizuoka Stadium, which witnessed its biggest embarrassment since Ronaldinho cheekily lobbed David Seaman 17 years ago.
A dose of reality for Ireland?
Hopes were understandably high after Ireland’s encouraging win over Scotland in their Pool A opener.
Schmidt’s side – who entered the tournament as the world’s number one ranked team – produced arguably their best performance of 2019 in the bonus-point victory over their European rivals.
Ireland entered the game against Japan as 20-point favourites, and left with their tails between their legs. Previous encounters with Japan had yielded a string of comfortable victories, and Ireland had never previously lost to a Tier 2 nation at a Rugby World Cup.
Early tries from Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney suggested that this would be another comfortable day at the office for the 2018 Grand Slam champions.
Ireland led 12-9 at the interval, but Japan’s stunning turnaround left the men in green reeling at full time.
Perhaps the six-day turnaround (compared to eight days for Japan) and the sweltering conditions were the major factors that caused Ireland to fade so drastically in the second half.
Schmidt and his players will also argue – and they have a case – that they were on the wrong side of the majority of referee Angus Gardner’s decisions, but the reality is that Ireland were found wanting.
If the spring’s disappointing Six Nations campaign dampened expectations ahead of the World Cup, Saturday’s defeat to the hosts has sent them plummeting far further.
It doesn’t look like Ireland will have a good chance at being a first-time Championship title winner this year.
On this performance, Ireland will need a miracle to overcome New Zealand or South Africa in the quarter-finals, particularly in light of their struggles against the Japan pack.
Despite the negativity of the chastening defeat, there are a few small positives to clutch to from an Irish perspective.
One is the bonus point awarded to Ireland for the narrow margin of defeat.
The other is that this shock upset has come early in the tournament, meaning Ireland can still bounce back in time to win Pool A.
Japan claim another huge scalp
In 2015 it was South Africa.
Four years later, it is Ireland who have fallen afoul of giant-killers Japan.
While a shock, this result was no fluke.
“Anyone who is utterly shocked hasn’t seen how good they were,” a deflated Rory Best said afterwards.
There was so much to admire about this Japan performance.
They certainly didn’t look like a team with just five previous World Cup wins to their name, and one which Ireland had never failed to beat by less than 16 points.
The Brave Blossoms were aggressive, disciplined and well-organised at the back, and clinical when given the opportunity to kick for points.
Japan, in truth, were fully deserving of this victory, and their excellent defensive performance highlighted the lack of creativity in Ireland’s play.
The hosts made more carries, completed more passes, missed fewer tackles, gained more metres and conceded fewer turnovers in Shizuoka. Japan’s ruck speed was excellent, and they remained assured in possession even as Ireland pushed desperately for a way back into the game.
With this win over a Tier-One nation, Jamie Joseph’s men have given themselves an excellent chance of making the quarter-finals.
They sit atop Pool A on nine points after two games, three clear of second-placed Ireland.
Mixed day for Carty
Jack Carty was thrust into the sweltering Shizuoka cauldron for just his second international start.
It was a mixed showing from the 27-year-old, who was under the magnifying glass in the absence of Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery.
However, after one or two stray kicks early in the game, the former Roscommon minor found his groove and showed plenty of ambition and vision when in possession.
It was his brilliant cross-field kick picked out Ringrose in the right corner for Ireland’s first try.
Carty’s subsequent conversion drifted wide of the post, but the out-half also played a crucial role in Ireland’s second try.
His probing kick over two onrushing Japan back-rowers was met by Kearney, who powered over the line to plunder another five points.
Carty made no mistake from his conversion on this occasion.
Moments later, he picked Keith Earls out with another punt pass, launching an Ireland counter-attack in the process.
However, like many of his teammates, Carty’s influence waned as the game wore on.
He was beaten too easily by Shota Horie, and later dispossessed by the Japan hooker.
His mishit restart went dead in the dying seconds of the first half, giving a resurgent Japan a scrum after the half-time gong.
Carty and those around him could not turn the game back around once Japan stormed into the lead in the second half.
There were plenty of positives in the 27-year-old’s performance, and this is an experience he won’t forget any time soon.
Expect Sexton to return for the Russia game.
Ireland will face Russia in their third Pool A clash.
Schmidt’s side will be looking to bounce back with a convincing bonus point win when they take on their European rivals at Kobe City Misaki Park Stadium on October 3rd.
Japan will face Samoa next, before taking on Scotland in their final pool match in what promises to be a fascinating encounter.