Over the years the Japanese Rugby Union team have entertained us in so many ways. Recently we’ve seen the most absurd and embarrassing attempt at a swallow dive over the whitewash in the HSBC Sevens world series where Kosuke Hoshino virtually threw the ball into the crowd mid flight. Japan once again had us laughing at the 2011 world cup when Ryohei Yamanaka got banned for steroid abuse after using a hair growth cream on his upper lip which contained a banned substance. The reason for using this cream was in the hope of growing a manly moustache for the competition in New Zealand.
It’s not all been laughs at Japan’s expense though in the 2007 World cup in France, Japan scored one of my personal all time favourite tries against Wales. Japan were defending on their own try line when the ball was stolen and Japan raced up the pitch in a superb counter attack and four well timed passes later they scored in the corner. Japan went on to lose that game but they did beat Wales for the first time in their history in July 2013 by 23 points to 8.
In my opinion of all the current rugby nations Japan are in the most interesting transition. They are growing and improving as a nation in terms of skill and ability and playing in the Japanese league is proving more and more attractive for players with heaps of money being pumped into it. Most notable exports to the league include James Haskell, Jerome Kaino and the brilliant George Gregan. The Japanese Top league was initially created to improve the quality of rugby in the nation and that has proven to be the case with Japan being the most dominant nation in Asia.
Currently Japan’s focus will be firmly set on qualifying for the 2015 Rugby World cup in England,with the Asia qualifiers only having played one game so far Japan look in good shape after beating the Philippines 121-0. Japan won’t be expected to do much at the forthcoming World Cup but the nations main aim is to perform respectably and prepare for 2019 when they host the competition.
With home advantage in 2019 and five years to do all they can to improve their rugby ranks, their skill sets and general play put themselves amongst the top eight sides in the world. With Eddie Jones at the helm they have the experienced figure head they need. Jones has the credentials of a real winner and he won’t have taken the job unless he truly believed he could break ground with the team. Japan do offer fluent free flowing attacking rugby with the ball in hand and they look to run the ball as much as possible these days. If Japan can develop a few specialists in key areas, such as Hooker, fly half, scrum half and number 8 they should be able to improve their consistency in the set piece and with the pack always offering bulk and mobility it can really help them work on the front foot in ugly games. As we all know, you can’t always win pretty.
I firmly believe Japan to be a sleeping giant in the rugby world. Football and Baseball are dominant in the minds of Japanese sports fans at the moment but rugby’s popularity is growing with every try, every win and probably every blooper. After the 2015 world cup, Japan face the challenge of promoting the 2019 world cup as the biggest sporting spectacle to hit Asia this millennium. If there’s one thing the Asian countries are good at, it’s self promotion and I for one am as excited about the opening ceremony as I am the first kick off.