When Japan booked their spot at Rugby World Cup 2015 with a convincing 49-8 win over Hong Kong on May 24, it ensured that the Brave Blossoms maintained their perfect attendance record on the Rugby World Cup stage.
Watch: Japan qualify for RWC 2015
Coach Eddie Jones will be leading a determined squad into next year’s Tournament. The Brave Blossoms will be desperate to improve on their disappointing performance at RWC 2011, in which they bowed out without a win. Japan will also be looking to better their current IRB World Ranking of 13th when RWC 2015 rolls around next year.
We have put Japan’s newly-confirmed RWC 2015 schedule under the microscope, profiled their opponents and highlighted some of their players to watch out for at next year’s tournament in England.
South Africa by the Sea
Japan’s opening match of RWC 2015 will be notable on two counts. Not only is it the first time that an international rugby match will be played in the seaside town of Brighton, but it will also be the first time that Japan and South Africa have ever faced each other.
The two teams will meet for the first time in the modern surrounds of the Brighton Community Stadium, the new state-of-the art home of Brighton and Hove Albion football club. The two-year-old venue will showcase international rugby to the south coast with a match that promises to be a tough first assignment for Japan.
Scotland at Kingsholm
Japan will then head north to one of English rugby’s traditional heartlands, Kingsholm Stadium in Gloucester, to take on Scotland. The Brave Blossoms have faced Scotland twice in previous Rugby World Cups, losing 47-9 to their higher-ranked opponents in 1991 and going down 32-11 in 2003. However, in the intervening years Japan have improved steadily and now sit just three places behind Scotland in the IRB World Rankings.
Away from the Rugby World Cup stage, Japan have pulled off just one victory over Scotland – in Rugby Sevens. The team’s historic first ever success over a tier-one rugby nation came against Scotland with a 28-24 win in Tokyo in 1989.
Samoa in Milton Keynes
Next up for Japan will be the Pacific Island nation of Samoa at StadiumMK in Milton Keynes. The first time the two sides met was in 1990 for a RWC 1991 qualifier in Tokyo where Samoa claimed a 37-11 victory. Since then Japan and Samoa have met on a further 12 occasions with Japan winning just two of those encounters. In their only Rugby World Cup meeting Samoa were runaway victors, beating Japan 43-9 in their RWC 1999 match in Wrexham, Wales.
Despite this record, Japan will be targeting their RWC 2015 pool game against the Pacific Islanders as a potential win. The teams should be well aware of each other’s capabilities having played regularly in the Pacific Nations Cup.
Back to Kingsholm
Japan return to Gloucester for their final Pool B match to take on the USA, who at No.18 in the IRB World Rankings sit five places below the Cherry Blossoms. It will be the third time that Japan have faced the USA at a Rugby World Cup, with results favouring the Eagles on both previous occasions. In 1987 the USA edged Japan 21-18 in Brisbane, then backed up that victory 16 years later at RWC 2003 with a more convincing 39-26 win in Gosforth.
Outside of the World Cup, however, Japan have fared slightly better in matches against the USA, winning seven of their 20 encounters. The last time the two teams met at the 2013 Pacific Nations Cup it was Japan who triumphed 38-20.
Players to watch
Yoshikazu Fujita (wing) – the try-scoring machine became the youngest ever player to represent Japan when he scored six tries on his debut aged just 18 years and 210 days in 2012. Despite a knee injury which saw him out of action for 10 months he was still able to notch up 11 tries before his 20th birthday, handing him the record for the most international tries scored by a teenager in rugby. He was also the top try scorer in this year’s Asian 5 Nations.
Harumichi Tatekawa (fly half/centre) – the young playmaker is currently competing in Super Rugby for the Brumbies in Australia. He made his debut for Japan in 2012 and has played 20 internationals since. He has been described by former Wallaby Toutai Kefu, his coach at Japanese first division club Kubota, as ”the best Japanese player I’ve seen.”
Fumiaki Tanaka (scrum half) – At just 166cm tall and weighing about 72kg Tanaka is known as one of the smallest professional rugby players in the world. But what he lacks in height he makes up for in stature being a highly respected and influential member of the Japanese team. In 2013 he was instrumental in orchestrating Japan’s first ever win over Wales and was praised as one of the game’s outstanding performers.
Japanese rugby by numbers…
3631 – Number of official rugby clubs in Japan serving 125,000 Japanese rugby players
2019 – The year Japan will host the Rugby World Cup
1899 – The year rugby was introduced to Japan
145 – The record number of points scored against Japan in their 1995 pool match against the All Blacks
69 – The number of tries scored by Japan’s Daisuke Ohata, the leading test try scorer of all time
13 – Japan’s current IRB World Ranking
8 – The number of times Japan have qualified for Rugby World Cup
1 – The number of wins claimed by Japan at Rugby World Cup