The 2015 Rugby World Cup was still a huge success, despite England crashing out in the group stages.
However, big sporting events always seem to benefit when the host country does well. So how does Japan look ahead of 2019? What would be a successful tournament for them?
World Cup Group A
Japan have been drawn in group A with Ireland, Scotland, Europe 1 and the playoff winner. Europe 1 is likely to be Romania. The playoff winner will, barring upsets, be Samoa.
So should Japan fear Romania, Samoa or any other contender for their pool? In 2016 they twice lost narrowly to Scotland, the scorelines reading 13-26 and 16-21. This year they lost 22-50 and 13-35 to Ireland and defeated Romania 23-9. Japan easily beat Samoa 26-5 in the 2015 World Cup. The two haven’t played since then.
In Japan’s most recent game, they demolished Tonga 39-6, scoring 5 tries. This is the same Tonga team that qualified for 2019 ahead of Samoa. Japan can be confident of at least 2 wins in their World Cup group.
The Sunwolves have often struggled in their two seasons of Super Rugby. However, there have been some standout performances this year. In their last outing, they beat the Blues 48-21 in a scintillating game. They have also posted narrow away losses to the Jaguares and Chiefs, and a win over the Bulls. Unfortunately, there have also been some poor games. They lost 17-83 to the Hurricanes, 50-3 to the Crusaders and 94-7 to the Lions.
The Sunwolves have exposed Japanese players to a high standard of rugby. They can only benefit as a result. Unfortunately, they don’t have all the best Japanese players. Michael Leitch, Amanaki Mafi and Akihito Yamada are three national team stars they have missed out on. Neither have they attracted star names of the calibre of some domestic company teams. This has contributed to a slightly underwhelming start to life in Super Rugby.
Even grassroots rugby in Japan is played at lightning pace. I played for local side Kanazawa Westbay RFC in the 2010-11 season. In my experience, teams almost never kick, rucks are rarely contested, and players are fast and fit. Training usually involves handling the ball as much as possible. Teams are organised and set pieces are usually well drilled. There is plenty of physicality but players look for space rather than contact.
Under Eddie Jones, Japan began to embrace their rugby DNA. Their wins over South Africa, Samoa and the USA in the last World Cup showed they can beat highly physical teams playing the Japanese way.
They have continued to refine this way of playing under Jamie Joseph. They regularly schedule games against teams such as Georgia in order to test themselves against more physical sides.
Experience and age profile
Steven and Gareth made a fantastic video on Pool A. They go into detail about the age profile and experience of the Japanese team and their Tier 1 opponents. In the video they conclude Japan have the right age profile and enough experience in their team to have a great chance of achieving their goals. This is based on previous winners of World Cups.
Japanese rugby is in good health. They have a great chance of upsetting either Scotland or Ireland and getting out of their pool. As a result of their recent performances, Japan should expect a minimum of 2 wins, and can realistically hope for more.
Author: Daniel Pugsley
I am a 30 year old from Yorkshire, England. I have played social rugby for 25 years in England, Japan, Italy, Poland and the UAE. I play for Abu Dhabi Harlequins 3rds and coach the U6s where my daughter plays. I teach English as a foreign language, which explains why I’ve lived in so many places. I am new to sports writing, but why should the Quins lads be the only ones to suffer my ramblings!