Kenki Fukuoka: from out of the match-day 23 to match-winner

How Japan's back-up winger became the hero against Ireland thanks to incisive passing and clever reading of the game.

TOKYO, 28 Sep - Winger Kenki Fukuoka played only one game in Rugby World Cup 2015 and was not involved in Japan's last great triumph, the victory over South Africa that became known as the Miracle of Brighton.

Nor was he named in the original match-day 23 for Saturday's match against Ireland - he came on to the bench when Will Tupou was ruled out. But Fukuoka ended up scoring the try that put Japan into the lead, pictured, and making the interception that ensured they kept it.

The try came from one of the passes of the tournament. On the opposition try-line you need to be wary of long passes. The defence may be just centimetres away, so an inaccurate or slow pass is liable to be intercepted and lead to a breakaway try for the opposition. It is for this reason that teams often choose to build momentum through multiple phases of 'one-out' rugby. Not Japan.

In the clip below you can see centre Ryoto Nakamura spot that Japan do not have an overlap. In fact, there are five Irish players defending four Japanese attackers. The Irish defence is narrow, though, leaving Fukuoka unmarked on the wing. Even if Japan go through the hands of all their attackers with five perfectly executed passes, the defence can drift across and cover each pass using their superior numbers. The solution is a cut-out or miss pass, quick and flat by Nakamura, to the penultimate attacker, Timothy Lafaele. He and Fukuoka are then two-on-one against Rob Kearney - a simple scenario to exploit - and exploit it they do.

Fukuoka then makes another telling contribution, below. Ireland were attacking, had gone through 14 phases were beginning to make ground. It would have been understandable if the Japan defence had decided to be conservative and not blitz. When Joey Carbery turns around with the ball it is clear that he is going to ignore his forwards and pass to his backs. Fukuoka sees this. He blitzes out of the line alongside Lafaele, who forces Jordan Larmour into a poor pass, which Fukuoka reads and intercepts.

He makes more than 50 metres, leaving Ireland - who knocked the ball on - nearly on their own try-line. They chose to kick the ball out and preserve their losing bonus point rather than attempt a length-of-the-field score. 

Not a bad couple of interventions from somebody who was not even meant to be in the team.

RNS sl/sdg/lm/bo