Joey Carbery looked to have made a grave error when he kicked the ball straight into touch in overtime to end Ireland’s chances of avoiding defeat to Japan – but in actual fact the replacement might have ended up saving his country’s World Cup campaign.
Ireland had led Japan 12-3 in the early stages but a second-half try from Kenki Fukuoka, follow by a conversion and a penalty from Yu Tamura, gave the hosts a 19-12 lead going into the final quarter.
Ireland recovered the ball on their own try-line with just seconds left on the clock and as the gong sounded, knew that the next stoppage of the game would end the contest.
Fans were screaming for Carbery, on at fly-half for Jack Carty, to pass the ball wide and try to start a counter-attack that might lead to a converted try, enough for Ireland to salvage a draw and avoid one of the biggest Rugby World Cup shocks of all time.
But instead, Carbery simply dropped back into the pocket and booted the ball into touch as if he were clearing his lines under more normal circumstances.
Social media was quick to react and pan Carbery either for a lack of belief or game awareness, but the 23-year-old could actually hardly have been more correct in his decision-making.
With no possibility of a win, and a draw in the group stages only worth two points, Ireland would have been risking sacrificing their losing bonus point with only one more point available, hardly a worthy reward for attempting to carry the ball the length of the pitch without a single stoppage.
And as former Wales captain Sam Warburton pointed out, the surprise result means the group, which also includes Scotland, could come down to very fine margins.
‘You could end up with a situation in this group now where you end up with three teams who play four, win three, lose one – in which case bonus points are vital,’ Warburton said on ITV’s coverage.
‘[In 2015, when they beat South Africa], Japan were the first team in history to go out the tournament having won three games.’
And Carbery’s decision was also backed by his coach Joe Schmidt.
‘The bonus point could be important,’ Schmidt said. ‘It allows us to stay in front of Samoa short term.
‘We’ve no doubt Scotland will be a player. Russia will line us up.’
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