OITA, Japan (Reuters) - Ireland’s positive outlook on their rugby side’s chances of winning their first Rugby World Cup title shifted within the space of 80 minutes of furious onslaught from a fired up Japan side, former captain Brian O’Driscoll has said.
Hosts Japan produced arguably the second biggest World Cup upset on Saturday when they beat Ireland 19-12 at Shizuoka Stadium, opening up Pool A and producing potential quarter-final ramifications for New Zealand and South Africa as well.
“The mood of the whole country has shifted in 80 minutes,” said O’Driscoll, who is now a pundit for British broadcaster ITV. “I for one didn’t see that happening.
“It’s very disappointing, it’s not the end of the tournament, they can still top the pool but gosh they have so much to work on to even think about getting beyond the quarter-finals at this stage.”
Ireland, one of the pre-tournament favourites, now face a tricker path to the final if they advance out of the pool.
The winner of Pool A is scheduled to meet the runners-up of Pool B, currently expected to be South Africa, in the quarter-finals, while the runners-up are projected to face the three-time champions the All Blacks, if there are no further upsets.
“The Brave Blossoms blew Pool A wide open,” the Irish Times’ Gerry Thornley wrote of the playoffs hopes for the Pool A contenders, that also includes Scotland and Samoa.
“Ireland need a handsome, 10-point return from their remaining games against Russia and Samoa.”
While Joe Schmidt’s side could potentially still win Pool A, a more likely scenario is that they face the All Blacks in Tokyo in the quarter-finals, although that match could prove a more than tricky encounter for New Zealand.
“No All Blacks fan needs reminding that Ireland have won two of their last three tests against the All Blacks - at Chicago in 2016 (40-29) and in Dublin in 2018 (16-9),” Stuff Media’s Tony Smith wrote on Sunday.
“The All Blacks would much rather meet Japan or Scotland in the playoffs than an Irish team which is no longer awed by the black jerseys before them.
“But that was a different Ireland to the one which turned up - or failed to do so, in point of fact - against Japan.
“It was a different Ireland too to the side which cantered to a four-try bonus point in the 27-3 win over Scotland a week ago.
“All is not lost for Ireland, but, while losing to Japan is bad enough, the prospect of playing the All Blacks in the quarter-finals, is a definite double whammy.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Daniel Wallis