Japan scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka's competitive spirit on the pitch is proof there are qualities beyond height and overall physique that make an all-round rugby player.

Tanaka, who stands 1.66-meters tall and weighs 72 kilograms, picked up his 60th cap Saturday in the Brave Blossom's test against Ireland, the first of two games against the side they have been pooled with at Rugby World Cup 2019.

The 32-year-old scrumhalf was his normal busy self at Ecopa Stadium in Shizuoka, but was unable to stop Japan going down to a 50-22 hammering.

Though he said he was stunned by the average height of the Irish players, there were other factors that led to the disappointing home ground defeat.

"They were big," said Tanaka, Japan's first Super Rugby player.

 rugby tanaka2

"But we can't use that as an excuse. Each one of us had good tackles, but we do have to work harder to raise our tackle success rate."

In the first meeting between the two countries in 12 years, Tanaka, who has been playing for Panasonic Wild Knights at the domestic level since 2007, displayed calmness under pressure, making good decisions until he was replaced 13 minutes into the second half.

"There weren't too many surprises, but I have to admit I didn't think there would be this much of a gap (in score). The first-half penalties cost us a lot. We can't let this happen in the next game," said Tanaka.

Ireland dominated in the first 40 minutes, but Japan played for pride after a 31-3 halftime deficit and managed to score three tries in the latter half, with reserve halfback Yutaka Nagare, another 1.66-meter player, scoring in the corner in the 78th minute.

"I didn't feel much pressure from the height difference, but I imagine the forwards did. They were big and powerful," said Nagare, who was appearing in his first test match against a major rugby nation.

"We found our tempo and started scoring after I got on the pitch but I don't know if I would've been able to play the way if I were on the full 80 minutes. I still have a lot to learn."

Ireland lock Devin Toner, at 2.08 meters the tallest player on the Irish side, laughed as he said he tries hard not to appear tall, adding size does not determine a rugby player's talent.

"I always feel like I have a physical advantage so I kind of back myself. But the Japanese compete very well and they're smart like that," said Toner.

"We tried to play a physical game as much as possible. We pride ourselves in our ruck, so we try to get that as quick as possible. But we weren't surprised with the Japanese physicality. I was very impressed with their lineout defense, and with (Michael) Leitch. They have got a lot of physical players."