LAND OF THE RIS­ING SONS

NZ Rugby World Tournament Guide - - CON­TENTS -

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.

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