Ireland v Japan - Teams and Prediction
NOVEMBER SERIES: Johnny Sexton will win his 100th cap for Ireland on Saturday against Japan and former teammate Marcus Horan told AFP he is “a testament to younger players what hard work can do.”
The 36-year-old flyhalf, said Horan, “is an unbelievably competitive guy who does not like losing and I think that is why some people love him and some hate him.”
Sexton will reach the milestone against a side he has yet to face since making his Test debut 12 years ago against Fiji.
In that time he has been pivotal in three Six Nations titles – the pinnacle the 2018 Grand Slam – won under present head coach Andy Farrell’s predecessor Joe Schmidt.
Historic victories over New Zealand (2016/18) – and world player of the year in 2018 – have also cemented his place as one of Ireland’s greatest players.
There have been low moments too along the way including injuries, two disappointing quarterfinal World Cup exits and being omitted from this year’s British and Irish Lions squad.
Horan, who won the last of his 67 caps two years into Sexton’s Test career, agrees that resilience is one of his great qualities.
“I totally agree about his ability in bouncing back,” said the two-time European Cup-winning former Munster prop.
“When you are up there at a great height people are throwing things at you and he has batted a lot of stuff away.
He added: “A lot of concern has been expressed over the bangs on the head he has taken over the years.
“People query it and it is out of genuine concern but the other side of that is the person going into battle cannot have those things on his mind.
“Johnny has always been very honest about the subject which is another side of him.”
‘Target on his back’
Horan says Sexton’s stoicism also comes from self-criticism as you “won’t get any worse critic than him on himself”.
“He epitomises the present Leinster squad,” added Horan.
“It is very easy to bounce back from tough stuff but there is that resilience in him when successful to come back and go again. I admire that in him particularly.”
Horan says Sexton fully deserves to reach the 100-cap landmark adding it is remarkable he has lasted so long given the treatment he has received for being Ireland’s talisman.
“It is incredible I suppose with his injury profile, for want of a better phrase,” said Horan.
“He has been a target with a target on his back for many years because other teams’ attitudes were and still are if you stop Johnny Sexton you stop Ireland.”
Meanwhile, Japan head coach Jamie Joseph is expecting Sexton’s teammates to raise their game significantly to help their captain celebrate the occasion with a win.
“He’s been a big part of the Irish success in recent years, certainly a big part when they beat the All Blacks [in 2016 and 2018] – a really experienced player,” Joseph said of Sexton in The Irish Times.
“It will be a great occasion for our boys to be able to celebrate that. We’ve talked about it this week.
“We know it’s going to create a lot of emotion with the Irish boys, we know they’re going to want to play for him and I think that makes the challenge for us more intriguing.
“But we’ve got a certain way we play the game and nothing’s really going to change for us.
“It’s just going to be a big occasion and I think that’s going to be good experience for our boys.
“Going forward with Johnny, I’m sure the Irish guys will want him to stay around – time will tell, I guess.”
Players to watch:
For Ireland: There will be plenty of focus on Johnny Sexton, but several of his teammates will also be trying to put on a good show with the World Cup less than two years away. Wing James Lowe is lethal with ball in hand, but his defence has been a problem in the past. He has been working hard on that aspect of his game and the Japanese will have plenty of dangerous players to test him. Jamison Gibson-Park gets another shot in the No.9 jersey, he will want to prove that he can dictate play between forwards and backs. Up front, hooker Ronan Kelleher is a powerful ball carrier when he gets going.
For Japan: Kotaro Matsushima is back and he is Japan’s most dangerous player out wide. He will be wearing the No.15 jersey, which will give him plenty of time and space when running the ball back after kicks. In the pack, Pieter Labuschagne retains the captaincy with Michael Leitch unavailable. Labuschagne has great speed for a forward and puts in plenty of work at the breakdowns as well. No.8 Kazuki Himeno is another dynamic forward who gets his side over the gain line with his powerful frame, especially when he is a couple of metres from the opposition tryline.
Head to head
Japan Won: 1
Ireland Won: 8
1991: Ireland won 32-16, Dublin (WC pool match)
1995: Ireland won 50-28, Bloemfontein (WC pool match)
2000: Ireland won 78-9, Dublin
2005: Ireland won 44-12, Osaka
2005: Ireland won 47-18, Tokyo
2017: Ireland won 50-22, Shizuoka
2017: Ireland won 35-13, Tokyo
2019: Japan won 19-12, Shizuoka
2021: Ireland won 39-31, Dublin
@rugby365com: Ireland by 14 points.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 James Ryan, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Keith Earls.
Japan: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Dylan Riley, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Siosaia Fifita, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne (captain), 6 Ben Gunter, 5 James Moore, 4 Jack Cornelsen, 3 Jiwon Gu, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 20 Tevita Tatafu, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.
Date: Saturday, November 6
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Kick-off: 13.00 (22.00 Japan time; 13.00 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be cloudy with light rain and high of 14°C and a low of 8°C
Referee: Nika Amashukeli
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy, Pierre Brousset
TMO: Eric Gauzins
AFP, The Irish Times & @rugby365com