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rugby union

More bravery needed from Brave Blossoms at Rugby World Cup

16 Comments
By Fred Varcoe

Cometh the Rugby World Cup, cometh the team. This has been the story of Japan’s rugby team at the last two World Cups and the hope is that the Brave Blossoms can maintain their impressive World Cup form in the upcoming tournament in France.

At the moment, the emphasis is on the word "hope."

After being famous for all the wrong reasons in their early World Cup appearances – notably that record 145-17 loss to New Zealand in 1995 – Japan reversed its loser image in 2015 with possibly the most sensational rugby result of all-time, a last-minute 34-32 victory over South Africa. For good measure, they also beat Samoa and the United States but couldn’t advance to the knockout stage after failing to pick up any bonus points.

Talismanic coach Eddie Jones didn’t stick around to see if the results were a fluke or not and he was replaced by the slightly less volatile Jamie Joseph, as Japan looked forward to hosting the 2019 edition of the World Cup.

Despite grumblings from some quarters about holding the World Cup in a rugby backwater, the tournament was an amazing success, both with the Japanese and the thousands of international fans who traveled from overseas.

Most importantly, Japan succeeded on the pitch. Before 2015, Japan’s record in the World Cup was: Won 1 (against Zimbabwe in 1991), Drawn 2 (both against Canada), lost a lot. An influx of semi-foreign players and Jones’ magic wand created a team of warriors that took the world by surprise.

On home soil in 2019, sustaining that development was crucial and Japan started off their campaign with a routine win over Russia before another astonishing victory over a rugby giant. Ireland came into the World Cup as Europe’s No. 1 team but Japan overcame them 19-12. Samoa proved to be no problem (38-19) but Japan had to beat Scotland to advance to the quarterfinals for the very first time. Another pulsating match and hugely influential crowd at the 72,000-capacity Yokohama International Stadium saw Japan run out 28-21 victors.

The runaway train was halted quite emphatically with a 26-3 loss to South Africa, but at least Japan could say they were eliminated by the eventual champions. Now Japan have to prove that they can continue their amazing World Cup run – seven wins from their last nine matches – in a more hostile atmosphere, although with the friends they have made in the last two World Cups, Japan will always be the fans’ favorite second team.

In France, Japan play in Pool D and will face Chile on September 10, England on September 18, Samoa on the 29th and Argentina on October 8.

While an England team in transition should still be strong enough to overcome Japan, the other three teams all represent potential victories for Japan. However, Argentina have risen steadily in the world rankings and are currently ranked sixth, two places above England. Japan have dropped to 14th, two places below Samoa and eight places above Chile.

Eddie Jones was sacked by England at the end of 2022 and took over as Australia coach soon after. He was replaced by Steve Borthwick.

England have struggled over the past year, with their biggest win coming against Japan: 52-13 in November 2022. In their warm-up matches for the World Cup, England lost to Wales, Ireland and Fiji, the latter being their fifth loss in six matches. After the Fiji match, The Guardian’s headline was “Borthwick’s England sink to new lows,” with the article stating, “Never before has English rugby taken such a massive reputational dive.”

To make matters worse, England’s captain Owen Farrell will be suspended for the first two World Cup games while suspended forward Billy Vunipola will miss their first game but could return for the Japan game.

All this should give Japan hope, if it wasn’t for Japan’s own poor run of form. Japan did manage to beat Tonga 21-16 on July 29, but lost to Samoa (24-22), Fiji (35-12) and Italy (42-21) in other warm-up matches. Japan has now lost 14 of its 18 matches since the 2019 World Cup.

Japan has been woefully inconsistent. Their backs can still run well and score tries but poor discipline in defense and weak kicking has hurt the team. Coach Joseph said Japan were basically “beating themselves.”

The inspirational Michael Leitch and hooker Shota Horie are both set to play in their fourth World Cup, while prop Keita Inagaki and outside back Kotaro Matsushima will be making their third appearances. Seventeen players will be making their World Cup debuts, with two members of the squad – scrum-half Kenta Fukuda and prop Sione Halasili – having never played for Japan before.

But don’t expect anything new. “The strength of the team is speed, skill and fitness,” Joseph said after the Italy loss. The key, he added, is to be more consistent and make fewer mistakes. “We don't want to stop the way we've been playing the game. We need to keep improving and maintain that confidence about the way we want to play. We’ve just got to be there, each week."

“We've had some tough results, with a couple of red cards and some serious injuries to some senior players that have really affected the team. Red and yellow cards will become an increasing feature of the modern game and every week, in every test match, players have to be able to adjust to these moments.”

Whatever the results, it will be sayonara for Joseph as he will return to New Zealand to coach the Highlanders.

© Japan Today

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16 Comments
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I don't think "blossoms" is a very inspiring name for a mens rugby team.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

An influx of semi-foreign players.

semi-foreign? What does that mean? 17 of the 34 man squad are 100% foreign. Their eligibility to play for Japan coming from having a professional rugby contract and playing in Japan for 3 years.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Japan against England will be like watching something from a silent and chaotic Buster Keaton film at this rate. Where did the momentum go from the last WC?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japan has a long history of playing Rugby. It is one of the most popular sports in Japan. They should win most of their matches.

-9 ( +0 / -9 )

I think basketball is a more popular sport in Japan compared to rugby, at least with the Japanese. Be nice if there was a FIBA category. Japan is playing well.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Wishing the Brave Blossoms success and hopefully wins in France. Coach Joseph will have them primed to repeat their success at the 2 previous editions of the World Cup. They are likely going to have to defeat the skilful Argies to progress - a tough ask, but not impossible.

Let's hope for some trademark running, ad-lib and exciting rugby!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Their eligibility to play for Japan coming from having a professional rugby contract and playing in Japan for 3 years.

What's wrong with that? They play their rugby in Japan so why shouldn't they be eligible for the Japan rugby team? There are a number of teams with many foreign-born players - Samoa (17), Scotland (15), Japan (14), Italy (12), Portugal (10), New Zealand (9), Romania (9).

Which associates you more with a country - that you play rugby there, or that your granny was born there but decided to leave?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Well stated, @ albaleo. Enlightening stat's.

In most cases, Japan rugby has put a lot of time, effort and money into developing these players, particularly those who came across on HS or University scholarships.

Some of the players on other teams - in contrast - are playing purely on heritage grounds. Most of the Samoan team - for one example - are NZ-born. Some have never even been to Samoa. Samoa certainly did not develop their rugby.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

With the resources England has it is a disgrace.

I can see Japan battering them and humiliating them big time.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

With the resources England has it is a disgrace.

I can see Japan battering them and humiliating them big time.

Have tickets for that one. I think Japan have a good chance. Biggest nightmare is that France operates dry stadiums so going to have to get sozzled before the game.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

semi-foreign? What does that mean? 17 of the 34 man squad are 100% foreign. Their eligibility to play for Japan coming from having a professional rugby contract and playing in Japan for 3 years.

Same with most countries.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Wishing the Brave Blossoms success and hopefully wins in France. Coach Joseph will have them primed to repeat their success at the 2 previous editions of the World Cup. They are likely going to have to defeat the skilful Argies to progress - a tough ask, but not impossible.

I’m really hoping they can improve on their 2019 performance, but the results from the lead up games really have me feeling like I did before they beat the boks in 2015. The final round of games before the start of the cup have been full of surprises for everybody though… quite frankly I have no clue what’s going to happen.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

GO BRAVE LOSSOMS !!!.. GO JAPAN !!!...

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

*BLOSSOMS...

LOL !!..

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I don't think "blossoms" is a very inspiring name for a mens rugby team.

Someone needs a Japanese culture lesson..

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

semi-foreign? What does that mean? 17 of the 34 man squad are 100% foreign. Their eligibility to play for Japan coming from having a professional rugby contract and playing in Japan for 3 years.

That's international Rugby regulations..

Sorry, no bonus..

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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