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.

Jamie Joseph at the Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool Draw.  (Photo by Dave Rogers - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)
Jamie Joseph at the Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool Draw. (Photo by Dave Rogers – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

The Sunwolves

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.

Players like Michael Leitch could possibly help improve the Sunwolves. By Dɐ, via Wikimedia Commons
Players like Michael Leitch could possibly help improve the Sunwolves.
By Dɐ, via Wikimedia Commons

Playing Style

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.

Playing in a 7s tournament for Kanazawa, 2011.

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.

Ayumu Goromaru celebrates after scoring against South Africa. Perhaps there will be more of this. Photo by AFLO
Ayumu Goromaru celebrates after scoring against South Africa. Perhaps there will be more of this.
Photo by AFLO

Author: Daniel Pugsley

I am a 31 year old from Yorkshire, England. I have played social rugby for 25 years in England, Japan, Italy, Poland and the UAE. I teach English as a foreign language, which explains why I’ve lived in so many places. I recently moved back to England and have had to take a break from playing, but I hope to pull on the boots again soon.


  1. Really good to get some informed knowledge on Japan. the #RWC2019PartyPool is going to be very tight with any of the top three teams capable of beating either of the others. Samoa and Romania are both able to put in good performances as well and could provide an upset for any of the other teams as well. really looking forward too/ dreading that last match for Scotland. Should be great.

    • Hi Paul, thanks for the comment. I am really hoping Japan manage another miracle, unfortunately that might be against you guys! Scotland have been so good to watch lately, but I got all emotional when Japan beat the Boks in ’15. Imagine a win like that in their own tournament! You are right, Romania and Samoa (if it’s them) are good sides capable of pulling off a shock too. It should be a great pool.

  2. Hi Daniel,
    After living here in Japan for two decades it is great to see the strides taken under Jones and Joseph.
    Getting out of the group and through to the group stages is a real possibility for them, only I would say that in order to make sure they do so, they are going to have to improve their kicking ability to allow them to take points far more consistently when they are on offer.
    They would (and should) have beaten France by a clear points margin yesterday if Tamura were more consistent. I hope they do not drop out at the pool stage because of a missed penalty or conversion.
    England and the Lions have/had Farrell and Daly to keep pressure on the scoreboard over the summer, and it was the boot of Goromaru that allowed for that final ten minutes in Brighton to be as it was.
    If Japan get themselves a kicking coach that can turn Tamura and one other into a Barrett, Farrel or Sexton, then I think hopes for a QF including Japan could definitely be on the cards!

    • Hi Orientdave, I am jealous you have been able to spend so much time there, I would have loved to stay longer than my 18 months. I am hell-bent on getting back there for 2019. Wouldn’t that be something, to see Japan in a World Cup QF? It’s worrying how good Scotland and Ireland are though, there’s a good argument that Japan have drawn 2 of the worlds best 4 sides in their pool.
      It’s very unfortunate that Tamura had an off day with the boot, from the highlights it looked as though Japan were the better side. He is a good player, I don’t know his stats but without checking I bet you 100 yen he has a better international kicking % than Beauden Barrett. Still, he’s no Farrell or Sexton, that’s for sure, and I agree with you Japan will need him to get there if that QF is going to happen.


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