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Ireland too strong for Brave Blossoms

by Rich Freeman

Japan ended its 2005 international rugby campaign on a losing note as it went down 47-18 to Ireland at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya on Sunday.

However, with the rest of the second-tier nations falling like ten-pins to the established rugby countries over the past two weeks, Japan can take heart from a performance that had more positives than negatives.

During their Rugby World Cup 2003 campaign in Australia, the Brave Blossoms were guilty of starting poorly and it seemed like history was repeating itself as Ireland quickly opened up a 14-0 lead, through tries by David Wallace and Frankie Sheahan.

However, with the departure of Eric Miller and the heat and humidity affecting the boys from the Emerald Isle, Japan fought back through a try by Daisuke Ohata.

With Keiji Hirose adding a conversion and penalty, the sides went into the break at 14-10 and rugby historians were trying to recall a similar upset, should Japan edge past its more illustrious opponent.

Unfortunately, it was not to be as the Japanese conceded three tries in the opening nine minutes of the second half, the first two while Shigeyasu Takagi was off the field after receiving a yellow card.

Ohata scored a second try — his 57th in just 52 tests — thanks to a clever pass in the tackle from Reuben Parkinson, but the Irish had too much power and were well marshalled by captain David Humphreys.

Sheahan’s second try, and Ireland’s seventh, in the 66th minute was simply the icing on the cake and ensured the Irish will fly home happy.

“The aim of the tour was to get two wins so we are very satisfied,” said head coach Niall O’Donovan.

For Japan coach Mitsutake Hagimoto there was disappointment that the year had ended on a losing note but he was confident things were improving.

“It’s hard to master the French style of rugby in three months,” he said referring to the input of assistant coaches Jean-Pierre Elissalde and Edmond Jorda.

“But we scored two tries from turnovers and the players have really improved since last autumn.”