Japan Rugby World Cup set to go off with a Bang
Japan Rugby Union national team players, (L-R) Timothy Lafaele, Shota Horie, Michael Leitch, Kenki Fukuoka and Wimpie Van Der Walt pose in a photo session duirng the team's new jersey press preview in Tokyo on July 4, 2019. (Photo by TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)

Japan will become the first tier-two nation to host a Rugby World Cup this year. After stunning the world in 2015 Jamie Joseph’s side will look to repeat the experience again but this time on home turf.

Rounding off David Challis’ tier two preview series we look at the potential for the Japan side. For a relatively small rugby nation, all eyes will be on the Asian side and they will look to make a name for themselves in 2019

Japan’s Rugby World Cup history

Japan is one of few tier two nations that have been to every Rugby World Cup. However, until 2015, their performances at the tournament were underwhelming, to say the least. They only picked up one win before 2015 which came against Zimbabwe in 1991.

Greatest Rugby World Cup moment

It comes as no surprise that this section will be dedicated to possibly the biggest upset in rugby history. No one gave Japan a hope when they took on South Africa in 2015. However tries from Leitch, Hesketh and Goromaru as well as a monumental kicking effort from the latter squeezed a dramatic 34-32 victory.

That one moment has afforded this nation a place in rugby folklore. They sit alongside Samoa, who strode onto the worlds scene with their triumph over Wales. And South Africa could also call this, their lowest moment…even if they still went on to compete in the 2015 semifinal.

Japan’s form leading into the Rugby World Cup

Japan is in really good form leading into this Rugby World Cup. In 2019, they won the Pacific Nations Cup securing wins over Fiji, USA and Tonga. This momentum will be huge for Japan when it comes to the World Cup itself.

However, the only drawback is there little experience against tier-one opposition. This could cause problems when it comes to pulling off an upset in September.

Three key players to Watch

Michael Leitch
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It is hard to look any further than Japan’s talismanic captain Leitch. He is a mountain of a man an always players with his heart on his sleeve. This strong ball carrying and abrasive back row play will be integral to their challenge this year.

Yu Tamura
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The halfbacks for any time are vital but in this Japan side Tamura at ten is their lynchpin. He controls their game and they will need him at his best to perform to their potential at the World Cup.

Luke Thompson

Thompson is a bustling second row who will be central to Japan’s need for front-foot ball. If he can keep their set-piece steady then Japan could be a real threat but a lot is going to rest on their ability to get enough ball.

Predicting Japan Rugby World Cup Pool A standing?

Pool A is probably the best chance we have to see a genuine upset at the World Cup. Japan will have to beat one of Scotland or Ireland to qualify which will be a huge challenge. However, if they can continue to play at the pace that they did during the Pacific Nations Cup then they have a real chance.

They are likely to have a fairly easy ride of it against Russia and Samoa. However, they need to make sure they are at their best in these games as there is a fair chance that this pool could come down to points difference.

Rugby in Japan going beyond the World Cup

Rugby is in a really good place currently in Japan. They have an almost professional league which is providing a great pathway for aspiring players. The value of a home Rugby World Cup cannot be overestimated as well for Japan. This event has the potential to inspire a generation and take them forward greatly as a rugby nation.

However, there are some problems for Japan. Their Super Rugby team the Sunwolves is being disbanded soon. This means that Japanese players will not have the chance to play at the highest level in a club scenario. However, this is simply a little blip and hopefully, the momentum generated from the Rugby World Cup will see Japan catapulted to centre of the rugby world.

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Japan host the 2019 tournament, and begin the competition on Friday night versus Russia.

 

“Main Photo Credits”
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