Stephen Ferris: Japan ideal warm-up for Ireland’s All Blacks clash
Ladbrokes ambassador Stephen Ferris talks Ireland v Japan, Johnny Sexton’s 100th cap and looks ahead to the All Blacks clash
We all know that Ireland vs the All Blacks is going to be the biggest show in town next weekend in Dublin. Maybe that’s why there are still a few tickets available for the matches against Japan and Argentina, but anyone who has managed to get a ticket for Ireland’s first Test against the Cherry Blossoms this Saturday should be in for a rugby treat.
Japan lost out narrowly to Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in July when it finished 39-31, but the Japanese players looked the more dangerous throughout, with Ireland reverting back to a much more pragmatic game plan in the second half which forced Japan into a few unforced errors. Teams that try to take Japan on at their own game usually come off second best, so I’m expecting Ireland to play with a lot more balance and use their very strong set-piece to wear down and tire out Japan.
The biggest talking point of this game is of course Jonny Sexton reaching the historic milestone of 100 caps for his country. He is a player who I was very fortunate to play with and against over my career. I can assure anyone reading this that Sexton is a born and bred winner and one of the most hungry competitors I’ve had the privilege to take the field with. To be there on Saturday will be one of those moments that you tell the grandkids “I was there when Jonny Sexton won his 100th cap against Japan”.
So how is this game going to pan out? Ireland are of course huge favourites and have selected a very experienced side. With 12 out of the starting XV being Leinster players it just shows that Andy Farrell is leaning on the guys who are very much in form. Leinster have been running rampant in the United Rugby Championship so can the same players, along with Tadhh Beirne, Andrew Conway and Bundee Aki, cause the same destruction that we have all watched since the domestic season started?
One of the main reasons for selecting such a strong 23-man team is to try to build confidence, partnerships and cohesion for their much tougher task next week against the All Blacks. It’s vitally important as a player to get high intensity match minutes at international level, and that’s why all the big guns are on show this Saturday.
Speaking of big guns, Japan have a few of their own. Yes, they have brought 10 uncapped players into their wider squad for the Autumn Internationals, but they still have world-class operators who have beaten Ireland in the past. Eleven of Japan’s starting XV were in the team that beat Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Matsushima, Lafaele, Nakamura, Labuschagne and the bulldozer at No 8, Kazuki Himeno, will absolutely cause Ireland a few problems and will give the few away fans in attendance something to cheer about I’m sure.
Currently there is 17 points in the handicap which seems quite big considering Japan only lost by 8 last time out. However this is an Ireland team playing in front of their home fans with a very experienced team who will be looking to set down a marker for what lies ahead.
We all know what every Irish fan is thinking. The real challenge is next weekend against the team that put 50 odd points on the Welsh in their own backyard. The Irish supporters have had a scare in recent months and suffered a defeat against a nation who is continually getting better. This is not the time to get complacent, respect as always will need to be given to the visitors.