Pressure on Japan in Rugby World Cup opener against Russia
TOKYO (AP) — The public awareness campaign has gone into overdrive at the Rugby World Cup, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe getting a close look at the Webb Ellis Cup and receiving the red-and-white jersey of the national team from captain Michael Leitch.
And the public response has been big, with a reported 15,000 people attending a practice session for the Welsh squad, and the New Zealand All Blacks being swamped with fans.
Leitch’s Japan lineup will have its first genuine taste of the expectation which comes with being host when it plays Russia on Friday in the opening match of the first Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia.
An upset win over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup swelled Japan’s fan-base at home and abroad and has added to the expectation that they may be the giant-killers of this year’s tournament.
Backrower Leitch was one of eight players selected Wednesday in Japan’s match-day 23 who were involved in that game four years ago.
Yu Tamara, a replacement four years ago, was picked by coach Jamie Joseph to start at flyhalf against Russia. Luke Thompson was included on the bench and, at 38, could become the oldest player to represent Japan in the competition and the first to play in four World Cups.
Leitch says his players are happy to live with heightened pressure and have their sights firmly set on making the quarterfinals for the first time. An emphatic win by 10th-ranked Japan over 20th-ranked Russia might help quiet the players’ nerves and those of their fans while lauching the tournament on a high note.
Japan will have to be quickly into stride as it needs not only to beat Russia but to do so by a large margin if it is to have a chance of progressing to the knockout rounds.
Russian rugby players work out in a camp on the outskirts of Moscow, ahead of the Rugby World Cup starting in Japan in this photo taken on Aug. 9. Japan will have its first taste of the expectation which comes with being tournament host when it plays Russia in the opening match of the first Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia.