Ireland 15 Japan 12
Ciara Griffin signed off on her international career in spectacular style by bagging a brace of outstanding tries in a hard-earned victory for the Ireland women’s rugby team against Japan at the RDS.
Overcoming a nine-point interval deficit – and the 29th-minute dismissal of first-time starter Hannah O’Connor – the home team did just enough to see off a stubborn Japanese challenge.
This was also Adam Griggs’s final game as Ireland head coach, with Greg McWilliams set to assume the hot seat in the new year. Whomever the latter chooses as his new captain, they will have big boots to fill – such is the imprint Griffin has left since taking on the role in 2018.
It was Ireland outhalf Enya Breen who got the ball rolling when she converted a routine sixth-minute penalty.
However, Lesley McKenzie’s visitors eventually grew into the action and pounced for the opening try of the proceedings in the 17th-minute. After Ria Anoku broke through a defensive gap via a Kanako Kobayashi offload, she had the vision to pick out outside centre Mana Furuta for an unconverted five-pointer to the left of the posts.
The concession of this try was a set-back for Ireland, but they suffered an even bigger blow when O’Connor was issued with a red card by Italian referee Clara Munarini for a high challenge to the chin of Japanese hooker Nijiho Nagata.
This asked serious questions of the Irish resolve and at the end of a prolonged attacking spell, blindside flanker Seina Saito dotted down on 37 minutes for a converted try that propelled Japan into a 12-3 interval advantage.
The home team needed a spark to work their way back into the reckoning and, thanks to their soon-to-be retired skipper, they got just that four minutes after the restart. After charging down an attempted clearance by Kobayashi, Griffin sprinted towards the loose ball and touched down in consummate fashion.
Although Breen was marginally off target with her tricky bonus strike, Ireland were now a rejuvenated force and intent on making light of their numerical deficiency. In her 24th game as Ireland’s onfield leader, Griffin was showing just why she will be leaving such a significant void upon her departure from the set-up.
After consultation between referee Munarini and TMO Matteo Liperini, she was awarded a second try in the 55th-minute for a magnificent driving finish underneath a slew of Japanese bodies. Breen was on hand to supply the extras as Ireland suddenly found themselves three points clear (15-12) once again.
Aoife Doyle thought she had extended their lead just past the hour mark when getting over in the right-corner, but it was ruled out on this occasion for a knock-on by Irish fullback Lauren Delany.
A missed penalty by Breen on the stroke of 70 minutes left the door open for Japan, but Ireland held out under relentless pressure in the dying moments to give Griffin and Griggs the perfect send off.
Scorers – Ireland: C Griffin 2 tries, E Breen pen, con. Japan: S Saito, M Furuta try each, A Otsuka con.
Ireland: L Delany; A Doyle, E Considine, S Naoupu, L Sheehan; E Breen, K Dane; L Feely, N Jones, L Djougang; A McDermott, S Monaghan; C Griffin, E McMahon, H O’Connor. Replacements: K O’Dwyer for Feely, C Moloney for Jones, both 46 mins; S Touhey for Doyle, A Caplice for McMahon, both 65 mins.
Japan: R Anoku; H Nagura, M Furuta, K Kobayashi, K Imakugi; A Otsuka, M Tsukui; S Kato, N Nagata, M Lavemai; K Tamai, O Yoshimura; S Saito, M Suzuki, A Nagai. Replacements: W Kitano for Yoshimura, M Abe for Tsukui, both h-t; S Minami for Lavemai, 46 mins; I Nagata for Nagai, 50 mins; M Yamamoto for Otsuka, 55 mins; Y Ito for Suzuki, 59 mins; A Kokaji for N Nagata, 74 mins.
Referee: C Munarini (Italy).