Japan a real threat to Ireland, warns Cullen
Despite an underwhelming performance in their World Cup pool opener, Leinster head coach Leo Cullen reckons Japan will be a handful for Ireland in Fukuroi on Saturday.
In front of a partisan home crowd at Tokyo Stadium last Friday, the Brave Blossoms encountered stubborn resistance from a plucky Russian outfit on their way to an eventual 30-10 triumph.
Ireland’s impressive dismantling of Scotland will make them hot favourites for a second consecutive victory at the tournament, but the Wicklow native urged caution ahead of their clash with the host nation.
“They [Japan] got the job done and sometimes it’s tough those first games. You can see with a lot of teams. It’s just about doing enough to get the job done. Park it, put it to bed and get ready for the next one,” Cullen explained.
“They would have been building for this game for such a long time, pulled apart their [Ireland’s] Six Nations games. It’ll be a tough challenge for our guys. Especially as you’ve got the emotional highs, and ups and downs, of the World Cup as well. It’s a shorter turnaround than what Japan have. It’s all the little factors when you go into World Cup time.
“On the flip side of that, Ireland would have had a lot of confidence from the weekend. I thought it was a very strong, physical performance. If they can compose themselves around the set-piece, like they did at the weekend, it’s going to be tough for Japan as well.”
Cullen has previous experience of facing Japan in their own back yard, having featured on Ireland’s tour of the East Asian country in 2005.
Whereas Joe Schmidt has an in-depth knowledge of Jamie Joseph’s side, the former lock admits they were a largely unknown quantity 14 years ago.
“When we were there in 2005, it was the first time there for us and it was at the end of a season. Obviously the Lions were gone at the same time.
“We were very much under the radar in terms of a tour. There’s much more information out there [now] as to what’s going on in the world. You know more about the teams.
“Japan have come to the fore, particularly in the 2015 World Cup. A lot of those guys are still around.
“A lot of guys feature in Super Rugby as well, so the knowledge is much greater, whereas we were completely blind going into those games.”
Even though 14 of their players are on international duty at the moment, some big names are expected to feature in Leinster’s tricky PRO14 bow – away to Benetton – on Saturday.
Cullen confirmed yesterday that Devin Toner, Ross Byrne and Dave Kearney are all in line for a swift return to competitive action for the Blues.
This keeps them in Joe Schmidt’s thoughts for a potential Ireland call-up over the next few weeks of a hectic World Cup campaign.
“Dev will hopefully play this weekend. Ross Byrne and Dave Kearney, the two of them as well.
“They’ve been good. Just got to there get back out there now and put in a good performance for themselves – individually and collectively for the team.
“The three of them, their attitude has been great since coming back in.
“They just have to be in a position where they’re ready to go, if called upon. There’s plenty of stuff for them, even post-World Cup.
“They’re not just going to get plunged into the Six Nations.
“2They need to go well in Europe and obviously before they get picked in Europe, they need to go well in these games now,” Cullen added.