By Padraic Halpin
SHIZUOKA, Japan (Reuters) – Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek said the Rugby World Cup Pool A favourites are under no illusions about the challenge they will face against hosts Japan on Saturday, having witnessed it first hand over the past 18 months.
The former New Zealand prop joined Japanese Top League club NEC Green Rockets last year and has combined his assistant role in Chiba with his duties in the Irish set up that he will give up after five years at the end of the World Cup.
Feek, who has spent almost a decade in Ireland having first worked with his boss Joe Schmidt at Leinster, said the dynamic Japanese front row’s strong upper bodies and ability to scrum low and compact has become a real strength.
“I think over the last couple of seasons there has been a real emphasis of getting it to a top international standard,” Feek told a news conference on Friday ahead of the clash between the sides who recorded bonus point wins in their opening games.
“My knowledge on Japanese scrummaging goes back probably 12 years, maybe longer, 15 years. There is a real culture around the scrum, a lot of the companies (Top League clubs) will travel two hours to have live scrum sessions against each other and there seems to be a real knowledge and thirst to get better.”
“We’re under no illusions that this week will be tough knowing the proud nature of Japanese rugby.”
Ireland named an unchanged pack from Sunday’s 27-3 win over Scotland after number eight Jack Conan, who impressed off the bench, was ruled out after his foot was trod on in training. Feek said the extent of the injury would be assessed over the next couple of days, describing it as a little bit of a setback.
Ireland gave the Scots very few opportunities to score in an ultra-disciplined performance. One of the team’s mantras under Schmidt is to be the most disciplined team in world rugby, his scrum coach said, declaring that one would struggle to find a team that works harder at it in the last 20 years.
After winger Kotaro Matsushima said indiscipline cost Japan in their twin defeats to Ireland two years ago, another participant in those games, centre Garry Ringrose, said Ireland know they will face a much tougher task this time.
“They’re definitely a different beast… We’re under no illusions of how much stronger and how much better they are,” Ringrose said.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)