After beating Australia in their opening game at the 2017 Women’s World Cup 19-17, hosts Ireland had Japan in their sights as they looked to make it 2 wins from 2 games.
With the semi-finals on the horizon, it was important for Ireland to keep their 100% winning record intact and getting off to a good start against Japan would certainly have boosted their hopes of qualifying, as well as their confidence.
It didn’t start well though for Ireland as Japan, seen as huge underdogs, headed into the break with a 14-0 lead. It wasn’t down to luck either, Ireland were being upstaged in every department at the UCD Bowl and the supporters were left shocked when the half time whistle sounded. Ireland had beaten Japan twice in June and they were 9 places ahead in the world rankings so many expected an extremely convincing win for the hosts.
With the France game on the horizon, Tom Tierney had made a number of changes for the Japan match to keep his players fit and fresh for the game that will ultimately decide who wins the group. However, even with 7 changes, many expected Ireland to come out well on top in the contest.
Japan had raced into a 14-0 half time lead thanks to a penalty before a penalty try and score by Mayu Shimuzu saw them extend their advantage. They were dominating all over the pitch, outclassing the hosts and forcing them into basic errors. It was going to take a huge effort from Ireland to force their way back into the tie and they only had the second half to complete the turnaround.
Ireland were a player down just after the break due to Katie Fitzhenry receiving a caution but things were rapidly swinging in their favour on the field. Alison Miller scored a try with Nora Stapleton converting to reduce the arrears by half. Then it was Paula Fitzpatrick’s turn to cross the line and yet again, Stapleton converted. Ireland were back with a bang, dominating and being roared on by the home support. Paula Fitzpatrick bagged her second of the night and that, along with another conversion from Nora Stapleton, was enough to see the hosts win by 10 points.
This inconsistent Irish performance is according to bookmaker Unibet, one of the many reasons why Ireland are not rated in this competition; they are ranked outsiders at 40/1 to win the World Cup, with even the USA priced better at 35/1. However, Irish fans can take heart from their spirited performance and hope the squad has learnt valuable lessons.
Ireland had done fantastically well to rescue the tie after a dismal start and they now head into the pivotal game against France on the 17th with renewed hope after winning both of their opening games. France hammered Japan in their opening game 72-14 and followed that up with a 48-0 dismantling of Australia. Ireland will really have to be on their game to beat France and finish as group winners. They can’t afford another slow start, especially against the French, who have brushed aside both opponents with ease so far.