How Irish rugby fans, ex-players and coaches reacted to Ireland's Rugby World Cup loss to Japan
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How Irish rugby fans, ex-players and coaches reacted to Ireland's Rugby World Cup loss to Japan

IRISH RUGBY is in a state of shock following their national team’s shock 19-12 defeat to World Cup hosts Japan at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa.

Ireland had led 12-9 going in at the break, but a spirited performance from Japan saw the tide turn in the Cherry Blossoms' favour over the course of the second half.

Rank outsiders against an Ireland team that was among the pre-tournament favourites to win the Rugby World Cup, Japan scored 10 unanswered points with Kenki Fukuoka’s try on 59 minutes putting the Brave Blossoms into the lead before a Yu Tamura penalty sealed the famous win.

Japan are no strangers to World Cup upsets, having inflicted defeat on another heavily fancied side in South Africa, four years ago, but the loss has sent shockwaves through Irish rugby, not least among the former players, coaches and fans of Joe Schmidt’s team.

“The mood in the whole country has changed because of what has just happened,” former Ireland captain and Brian O’Driscoll told ITV.

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“I didn’t see that happening. I knew it would be a tough game playing against the host nation with nothing to lose but huge credit to Japan, they played terrific rugby.

“But Ireland looked very blunt. They were devoid of ideas.

“They looked devoid of energy actually – I wonder did the conditions and the humidity take effect? Because it wasn’t the Ireland that we’ve come to expect over the course of the last couple of years.

“It’s not the end of the tournament but they have some amount of work on if they are to think about getting beyond the quarter-final at this stage.”

Former Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan struck a more upbeat tone, telling RTE: "It is (recoverable) because the next two games are winnable and winnable with bonus points.

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"They're not strong teams. Russia must be on their last legs at this stage and Samoa have lost players to suspension. So, they're vulnerable.

"The tricky part here is that it maybe throws a curveball in terms of selections. I think if we won today, it went to plan, I think he would have let everybody rest and get everybody on the field.

"Now he's got to make sure we get a bonus point game against Samoa. Which is a dangerous game in the sense that if you make it open it could be tricky. You don't want to play an open game against Samoa.

"I don't think it's any reason to panic. This is a setback.

"You could imagine the squad environment or camp this week would have been on a high, everyone in great form after last week's result.

"This'll suck a lot of energy out of it. Fellas will feel very down and disappointed. He's got to not let that take any more energy out of the squad."

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Ireland’s third most-capped player, Paul O'Connell, meanwhile, admitted to ITV that while Ireland underwhelmed Japan deserved plenty of credit.

"They looked very flat. They replaced the two props after 45 minutes. I thought (lock Iain) Henderson looked quite flat in the second half,” he said.

"A big thing for Ireland over the last couple of years has been their ruck. They've had the best ruck in the world, in terms of ball retention and in terms of speed of ball. And Japan has just absolutely done a job on them at the breakdown."

"Every time Ireland had possession, Japan were managing to get one, two hands on the ball. Every time they were slowing it down so Ireland couldn't secure fast ball when they had it.

"I think that's the real story of the day. The way the Japanese played, the way they held onto the ball, they tired Ireland out and their ruck was just phenomenal."

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Over on RTE, Ex-Ireland international Jamie Heaslip underlined how crucial it is that Ireland learn and move on from the defeat if they are to stand any chance of winning the Rugby World Cup.

“I'd say most of them will probably watch it before they go to bed. It'll be cut up. They'll have the video first thing, they probably won't be on the field tomorrow.

"It's a quick turnaround and that's probably a good thing for them. And that's probably the best thing. For the guys who get picked.

"The guys who don't will have this hanging over them for two weeks now. And it's going to be really interesting to see who he changes.

"I expect a lot of changes because it's the same pack two weeks in a row. They simply have to get back on the horse and win this game."

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Despite some uproar among fans back home, some of those supporters watching over in Japan took a more philosophical tone.

Nigel Keane, a 52-year-old driving instructor from Dublin who watched the game at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, told Japan Times: “I feel that you never underestimate your opponents. Never.

“It was a good match. You can’t substitute skill for guts and determination.

“I think Ireland have to put in two more good performances to go to the quarterfinals.”