RUGBY COLUMN – JUNE 20
By Daire Walsh
KEITH Earls, Dan Leavy and Jack Conan all produced strong performances in Shizouka on Saturday, as Ireland began their two-game series against Japan with a commanding 50-22 victory.
An equally comprehensive success at the expense of the US Eagles in New Jersey seven days earlier had placed Joe Schmidt’s charges in a positive frame of mind, and they will now be hoping to maintain their 100% record on this Summer Tour when they renew acquaintances with the Japanese this weekend.
Joey Carbery had featured at out-half for Ireland against the US, but after sustaining an ankle injury in the second-half of that game, the Athy man was ultimately ruled out for the remainder of the Tour. His place at half-back was taken by Paddy Jackson, but there was still a Kildare presence in the Ireland match-day squad for this encounter.
Kill native James Tracy was named amongst the Irish replacements, and deputised for Niall Scannell during the second period – earning his third senior international cap in the process. Earls was one of the key performers for the Green Army against the US, and he followed up an early Jackson penalty with a clinical converted try.
Japan opened their account with a Yu Tamura three-pointer, before the visitors responded once again with a brace of tries from the excellent Leavy. His back-row partner, Jack Conan, also crossed over before the end of the half – as Ireland brought a seemingly unassailable 31-3 lead into the break.
Conan received a recall to the Irish squad on the back of his exceptional form for Leinster in the past season, and he claimed his third try in just two games shortly after the restart. This Irish scoring sequence was disrupted by a Ryuji Noguchi five-pointer, before Ireland re-asserted their authority when Garry Ringrose and Earls crossed the Japanese whitewash.
Sharp finishes from Kenki Fukuoka and Yutaka Nagare helped the home team to add a degree of respectability to the final scoreline, but Ireland will be firm favourites to come out on top at Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday.
Meanwhile, after failing to record a win during the pool stages of the competition, the Ireland U20s finished their World Rugby U20 Championship campaign on a high in the 9th-12 place play-offs. Naas RFC’s Jordan Duggan started in the front-row as Ireland faced Samoa at the Avchala Stadium, and thanks to tries from Ronan Kelleher (two), Peter Cooper, Fineen Wycherley, Oisin Dowling, Calvin Nash, Ciaran Frawley and Caelan Doris, they registered a morale-boosting 52-26 triumph.
Duggan also started Sunday’s meeting with host nation Georgia, and though it was a much tighter affair, Alan Tynan, Caelan Doris and Paul Boyle five-pointer propelled Ireland towards ninth place in a 24-18 win.
Elsewhere, it was a productive weekend for the Ireland Women’s Sevens squad in Malemort at the weekend, as they secured third place in the opening round of the Rugby Europe Grand Prix – which will continue in Clermont in the coming week.