Japan’s transition from World Cup whipping boys to 2019 quarter-finalists has not been an overnight story, but one that has been as gradual as it now seems great.
Japan, since 22 August, 2015, have played 40 matches and won 28. Included in these 28 wins is the famous 2015 World Cup win against the Springboks and the stunning 2019 World Cup win against Ireland.
Japan’s win against Scotland bucked the trend of traditional results and was history-making in that it was the first time in eight Tests that the Brave Blossoms had beaten the Scots.
Japan’s improvement on the global stage started with Eddie Jones’ tenure and further prospered under the Kiwi coaching duo of Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown. Joseph and Brown are former All Blacks and both were strong coaches with the Highlanders.
Joseph, strategic in his identification of how to marry foreign imports with homegrown talent, managed to select 15 players born outside of Japan for this World Cup, but at no stage has the team lost its identity as being the hosts. There is enough Japanese in this squad to ensure that the squad speaks to a nation and can identify with the culture of the nation. Joseph, in the build-up to the World Cup, said the team’s primary target was to make the last eight, and they have done it. His mission over the last four years was to develop a team that consistently beat second-tier nations and one that would be strong enough to be competitive against any team in the game.
Japan will start against the Boks ranked seventh. The Boks are fifth. Never has Japan been ranked as high and never has a global audience given them such respect as a rugby nation. Their results have demanded acknowledgement, but it is their style of play that has dwarfed the results. The tempo and pace have been exhilarating and Joseph has settled on a style of play that speaks directly to the strengths of his individuals. It is also a compliment to the conditioning staff because to play the way Japan does, every player’s conditioning has to be at a career peak. Joseph has succeeded in breaking out of the second-tier pack. Japan, in the past four years, have beaten the USA, Canada, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. They have added Scotland and Ireland to their hit list and were a minute away from beating France in Paris in 2017. The French escaped with a 23-all draw, but Japan had made a statement to kill off the memory of their 145-17 World Cup defeat to the All Blacks in South Africa in 1995. There was also a narrow 33-30 defeat to Wales in Cardiff in 2016.
The advances have been huge but not big enough to trouble the Boks, All Blacks, England and Australia. Japan in their most recent matches against these teams lost to New Zealand by 38 points, SA by 34 points, Australia by 30 points and England by 20 points.
Expect the Boks to win by at least 20 points on Sunday.
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