TOKYO, 27 Sep - For Japan to progress in their own Rugby World Cup they need to beat one of Ireland or Scotland. To guarantee a place in the quarter-finals, however, they must beat both Ireland and Scotland, and pick up an expected win against Samoa.
The World Rugby Rankings, which rate Ireland as the second-best team in the world and Japan the ninth, suggest Ireland should be relatively comfortable victors. Ireland have never lost to Japan in seven attempts and Japan have never come within 15 points of beating Ireland.
So with the statistics stacked against them, what do Japan need to do to spring one of the great World Cup shocks?
First, they need to surprise Ireland. Against Russia, Japan's ball carriers were constantly trying to get back up and play the ball once they were tackled. This is legal: as long as you release the ball when you hit the ground, you can pick it up again once you get to your feet.
In the clip below, Kazuki Himeno is tackled, releases the ball, then gets back to his feet and gains more metres. Defenders will not play many teams who use this tactic as often as Japan did in their opening match. The key to defending this tactic is to stay close to the tackled player - if the defence spreads out too soon the player can just get up, run straight ahead and through the hole.
In this next clip, look how Russia spread out defensively once Himeno is tackled: they do not consider that he might get up and run through the hole. When Russia tried to get wide defensively to counter the Japanese threat, they ignored the biggest threat of all - the run straight through the middle.
One way to counter this is to put men in the tackle and get up quickly once they have made the tackle. If a defender gets up before the attacker, he can dive straight on the ball before the attacker can play it.
You can see the Russians employing something similar to that tactic in this example. Japan’s James Moore tries to get up after the tackle but Russian prop Valery Morozov is there to stop him releasing the ball. I have no doubt that Ireland will be practising this during their training week.
Japan also need to find a way to deal with the Irish line-speed, which broke Scotland’s chances on Sunday. The wide flowing moves filled with highlight-worthy offloads only work if you are going forwards. If you are constantly being driven backwards by a rampant defence you cannot do much more than carry the ball into contact.
Russia did not try and blitz Japan often but there were some examples. Here Japan have an overlap on the outside. The blitz by Russian outside-centre Vladimir Ostroushko knocks off the Japanese timing and the try-scoring opportunity goes.
One way to deal with a blitz defence is to draw the defender's attention and then deliver a short pass to an attacker stood on your shoulder. The blitz does have its weaknesses, in that holes appear in the defensive line when players charge out. Long passes are harder to execute under time pressure but a short pop can put somebody through one of those holes.
Japan should not change their gameplan when they face Ireland but they do need to be wary of the Irish threat. The tactics that beat Russia will not necessarily beat Ireland. If Japan can surprise the Irish and deal with the line-speed they will significantly enhance their chances of victory.