Japan Brave Blossoms head into RWC on a real ‘Hi’

Japan Brave Blossoms
HIGASHIOSAKA, JAPAN - AUGUST 03: Kenki Fukuoka of Japan runs past Sitiveni Mafi of Tonga to score his side's fifth try during the Pacific Nations Cup match between Japan and Tonga at Hanazono Rugby Staidum on August 3, 2019 in Higashiosaka, Osaka, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

Achieving a clean-slate of victories in the Pacific Nations Cup, the Japan Brave Blossoms men’s rugby team head into the Rugby World Cup on a real ‘Hi’.

Yes, it is a complimentary nod to the hosts of the 2019 tournament, but with recent success under their belt, they have surely earned a huge amount of confidence to back-up their local supporter base.

As the first Asian nation to ever host the World Rugby event, some thought it was by courtesy. That the nation were simply a ‘market’ that needed to be tapped. Yet by winning the Pacific Nations Cup – played by six RWC qualified nations – the Japan Brave Blossoms are demonstrating that they deserve entry; not only into the tournament, but up to the main table.

They are heading into September on a real high.

Japan Brave Blossoms head into RWC on a real ‘Hi’

With a proud history of club and ‘factory’ rugby teams, Japan has turned a corner; in regards to quality. They are not so much now just the Brave Blossoms but, they are a threat to International rugby sides.

This was proved over the last three weekends – and almost certainly, recalls their massive victory over South Africa, at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Recent efforts on the domestic and international front, have lifted the side up out of the lowest tier of sides, to now threaten Tier One nations. The results of the Pacific Nations Cup, underlining their form and positive attitude. They topped the table, above more established sides, to set a marker for September and October.

1: Japan Brave Blossoms – PNC record: W | W |W

Adding a third PNC title to their trophy cabinet, the Japan Brave Blossoms were clearly the most professional side in the competition. By immediately casting aside the threat from the higher-ranked Fijians, and then moved Tonga easily on. That left the United States.

Captain Michael Leitch as ever, led from the front. The efficient side worked tirelessly, and while they did concede points to the US Eagles, the 20-34 scoreline continued the Japan Brave Blossoms ability to outclass their PNC opponents. Top try scorers, equal least amount of tries conceded and a perfect 15/15 points. A perfect pathway to the RWC tournament.

A member of Pool A, it will see the Jamie Joseph coached side with big expectations. His remark after the match was, “Our first goal was to win the PNC”.

“The next goal is to go to the World Cup, play our Japan brand of rugby and make the top eight.”

2: Fiji – PNC record: L | W | W (Points difference +/- 19)

Always respectful and honest, Fiji will be unsatisfied with second place. Only just above the USA team (by two points +/-) they will have wanted to play better. They would have dreamed of being the dominant nation, however, the first-up loss to Japan set their course for runner up status.

Still, naturally entertaining and with many highly experienced team members, continuity is where Fiji must improve. 80-minute matches, and to play the ball, not the man.

That is not to say that sides can take the Flying Fijians easy. With Vereniki Goneva and a recovered Semi Radradra looking to get back to their best, they are always a threat with ball in hand in, Pool D.

3: United States – PNC record: W| W | L (Pd +/- 17)

Gary Gold has made plenty of advances with the US Eagles. Boosted by the high performing Rugby Sevens and Major League Rugby resources, his group are a clear second – and had glimpses of opportunity against Japan. The side played a great style of rugby, and if they can control possession, then at the RWC you will find Pool C opponents needing to take them very seriously.

A number of US players have sealed their places. AJ MacGinty certainly is a powerful influence on the group, as is captain Blaine Scully. He told WorldRugby.com, “as much as we’re disappointed by the result, this is very much about the process.”

4: Samoa – PNC record: L | W | L

A single win over Tonga was all the reward for the Steve Jackson coached side. His influence doing so much as to ensure the players have good standards to meet. Bare minimum levels, and if Manu Samoa wishes to take on the other Pool A nations.

By comparison, Samoa should fancy themselves against Russia, and fight hard in matches against Scotland, and Japan – who they lost to in Round One of the PNC.

5: Tonga – PNZ record: L | L | W

Ending their campaign on a high, in beating Canada 33-23 at Churchill Park in Fiji. It was satisfactory, yet still a way off of where they plan to be in September. Tonga captain Siale Piutau told World Rugby, “We’re just trying to get fitter, stronger so we’re ready for the tier one teams at the World Cup.”

His remarks were like those of many Tier Two nations, but they can still dream. One big performance could boost their chances in Pool C [besides USA].

6: Canada – PNC record: L | L | L

Out of contention for most games, little will be taken away from this championship for the Maple Leafs. Tyler Ardron and his group must use the schedule as a measure for the effort required. They play with emotion, and that enjoyment is as much a key to success, as are the micro-skills. Each complements the other, so when Canada compete in Pool B, they must aim to match Namibia, and Italy.

These matches will serve each nation well. Tonga and Fiji visited Rugby World Cup stadiums in Japan, which gives them an awareness of the conditions. And for the host, the undoubted confidence born from the 2019 Pacific Nations Cup is worth its weight in Gold.

Michael Leitch
Captain Michael Leitch (C) of Japan lifts the trophy after the Pacific Nations Cup match between Japan and the United States at the ANZ Stadium on August 10, 2019 in Suva, Fiji. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

And gold may be something that the Japan Brave Blossoms have on their mind, and well within their grasp. If you agree, say ‘Hi’.

 

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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