Japan is another of the small rugby nations to have participated in all five Rugby World Cups, but unfortunately they have only ever won one match in the tournament (in 1991 against Zimbabwe).
The Cherry Blossoms compete in the Pacific Nations Cup every year, battling with Fiji, Tonga, Samoa as well as Australia A and the Junior All Blacks.
Japan’s greatest ever result was their defeat of Scotland in 1989 by 28 to 24, and their worst defeat was against New Zealand in 1995 when they lost 145-17. That said, 17 points against the All Blacks is a feat that Australia couldn’t achieve in the last match of the Tri-Nations!
Now that John Kirwan has taken over the coaching reins, the team is hoping for further success at this year’s competition. Kirwan has his sights set on two victories in the tournament, and they will be eyeing up Canada and Fiji – their Pool B rivals – as potential victims.
Kirwan has stated his intention to be “the World’s fittest team” and to “play rugby that big men don’t like”, presumably referring to the mismatch between the traditional Japanese stature and the size and strength required for International rugby.
In the Japanese squad is a world record holder – Daisuke Ohata last year eclipsed David Campese’s record for tries scored in Test matches with 65 international tries in 55 games, and with that sort of strike rate, opposing teams should beware.
Elsewhere, Ruatangi Vatuvei – formerly of Tonga – is a large second row, but is often used in the centre as a battering ram. Other players to watch out for are Philip O’Reilly (is that a traditional Japanese name?) in the back row and Keisuke Sawaki at fly-half.