LAND OF THE RISING SONS
Japan are flying high and will fancy they can cause two upsets.
Japan have long been the dominant force in Asia but have taken steps in recent times to progress beyond that writes LIAM NAPIER.
THEY ARRIVE IN ENGLAND AS..?
Underdogs to emerge from their pool. Eddie Jones has made positive strides with this team, securing historic victories over a second-string Wales outfit (23-8) in 2013 and knocking over Italy to register 10 wins in a row last year. But the end of year tour wasn’t so flash. Japan lost to Georgia (35-24) and just beat Romania (18-13). They will need to lift their game significantly to claim their second win at World Cups, with that sole triumph coming against Zimbabwe (52-8) in 1991. Preparation will see them play the Pacific Nations Cup; two matches against Uruguay at home and an away game against Georgia. It’s hardly a rock star lead in. Japan have taken some historical beatings in this arena, notably the 145-17 belting handed out by the All Blacks in 1995. Jones’ men have come a long way since, but it would be nice to see them prove it on the ultimate stage. One draw against Canada in the last edition wasn’t good enough.
WHAT TYPE OF FOOTBALL WILL THEY PLAY?
By nature, the Japanese don’t tend to produce huge, muscular men. Their Top League competition, which now features several top-name internationals, and the spread of the professional game has undoubtedly boosted their athletic abilities and competitiveness. But their genes don’t suit a forward-orientated game. The appointment of former French hooker Marc dal Maso has seen Japan’s scrum improved dramatically. No longer are they pushovers on any level. Overall, their game remains reliant on quick possession, speed, determination, creativity and sharp angles.
WILL THERE BE ONE PARTICULAR GAME THEY TARGET?
Japan will compete for periods against South Africa and could, in theory, cause major boilovers against Samoa and Scotland, but they will view the USA, who are ranked three spots below them, as a must win.
DO THEY HAVE ENOUGH PERSONNEL DEPTH?
Improving all the time. Continued exposure to some of the world’s best in their home professional league only lifts the skill set of those local players. Few have broken into overseas competitions but a Japanese team in Super Rugby from next year will only enhance development further.
POST TOURNAMENT HOPES..?
Japan certainly have it all before them. They host the next Rugby World Cup in 2019, followed by the Olympic Games in 2020. And, of course, they’ve been granted a five-year licence for a team in Super Rugby from next year. We’ve seen what Argentina’s introduction into the Southern Hemisphere’s premier Four Nations has done for their progression. These steps can only benefit the long-term game in Japan, too.
BIG CH IEF: Michael Leitch is an impressive leader.