Pres­sure on Ja­pan in Rugby World Cup opener against Rus­sia

The Korea Times - - SPORTS -

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.

AP-Yon­hap

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.

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