Japan’s Brave Blossoms have had a profound effect on the 2015 World Cup in a way not even their most fanatical of fans could have believed.
Their victory over the Springboks made the whole world stand up and take note, whilst they compounded this with an impressive victory over Samoa that means they are now in a position where they could make the quarterfinals if results go their way.
This is about so much more than surprise victories however, instead it is about a team that play the game in the right way to the point where they have become everyone’s second team at the World Cup. Never have I seen fans so passionate about supporting a team that they have absolutely no ties to, other than a bond over the sport of rugby.
The fact Japan have come out to play the game in such an inspiring way is also much to their credit. Rather than simply trying to stifle their opponents, they have taken the game to them, and in the process produced some wonderful attacking rugby that many top tier nations would have been proud of.
They have done this by building a solid set piece platform despite having one of the smallest teams in the World Cup. Their tallest lock against Samoa for example was just 6’4” which speaks volumes for the work Steve Borthwick has done with their pack.
Their decision to go for the win over South Africa instead of settling for a draw speaks volumes about their mentality as a side, whilst there is clearly an incredible bond between the players who look like they would happily go to war for one another. They have also been a credit on and off the pitch showing their respect at all times which has been mirrored by their fans at all times.
Given that Japan have secured more World Cup victories in their last two weeks, than in their prior 24 year World Cup history speaks volumes about just how far this side have come in a relatively short space of time.
The sides performances have also helped inspire a nation back home as 25 million Japanese TV viewers tuned in to watch their side’s victory over Samoa, a world record for domestic rugby anywhere.
The fantastic thing is that the Brave Blossoms have got a nation talking about rugby at a seminal moment for the sport in Japan. With their Super Rugby franchise now confirmed they can build interest whilst also capitalising on the introduction of sevens to the Olympic games next year. This will all build up to their role as host nation of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
For one team to have not only inspired their own nation where rugby still remains a peripheral sport, but to have had such a profound effect on neutrals at the Rugby World Cup should speak volumes about just how far this team have come. Yes they are likely to struggle to compete with Tier 1 nations on a regular basis for now, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact they are clearly the team of the tournament in 2015, no matter what happens next.