KOBE, Japan (Reuters) - It was consistency that took Ireland to a place where they were considered Rugby World Cup contenders and loose forward CJ Stander believes they must rediscover it if they are to revive a campaign rocked by a shock loss to Japan.
Renowned through the decades as a team that ran hot and cold, the Irish became the Northern Hemisphere benchmark for consistency in 2018 when they won the Six Nations with a Grand Slam and notched up a second win over New Zealand.
This year, though, there was a disappointing Six Nations campaign and at the World Cup they steamrollered over Scotland in the first half of their opening game before fading after the break.
Then came the Japan shock.
In terms of the lows in his 36-test career, Stander said the 19-12 loss to the host nation in Shizuoka hovered just above being sent off against South Africa, the land of his birth, in 2016.
“We started well, went two tries up, we had a few opportunities in the first-half, less the second half when they just took it away from us,” he told reporters on Monday.
“There’s a few places we can fix-up, just look after the ball a bit more and use opportunities. Japan played well, put us under pressure and kept building on that pressure during the game, especially coming into the second half.”
Next up is what should be an easier Pool A contest against Russia in Kobe on Wednesday, when the Irish will be looking to produce the sort of 80-minute performance that has become their trademark under Joe Schmidt.
“It’s just in a few games that we’ve missed the consistency we want from ourselves,” the big number eight added.
“We drive ourselves by high standards in what we do on the pitch, so we just need to be consistent in our process and what we do.
“If we can just build on the moments we have and use opportunities then we can get points on the board. Sometimes if you lose those moments against a team like Japan, then you’re going to get let down.”
One area where the Irish will certainly be looking to tighten up will be in the penalty count after conceding nine against Japan.
“There’s a few penalties that were in our control. I gave one away for being offside,” Stander said.
“It’s just those small things - it’s marginal, something that we can fix. The other ones, we’ve looked at them but we’re sitting here on a Monday and there’s nothing we can do about them. We just need to make sure that we stay crystal clear.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Tokyo, editing by Sudipto Ganguly