Fans cheer their team during the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match at Tokyo Stadium between Japan and South Africa. Photo: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Fans cheer their team during the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match at Tokyo Stadium between Japan and South Africa. Photo: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Japan joining Rugby Championships premature, they still have some work to do

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen Time of article published Oct 23, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG – Japan’s Brave Blossoms are the story of this year’s Rugby World Cup. But talk of them joining the Rugby Championship is premature and ludicrous. And let’s not even start on the debate about the Sunwolves being readmitted to Super Rugby.

As good as Japan have been at this year’s World Cup on home turf - qualifying for the quarter-finals for the first time - they’re not ready, or strong enough, to be a competitive force in the Rugby Championship. And, the Sunwolves’ results in Super Rugby over the last four years are simply not good enough for them to justify playing in the competition post the 2020 season.

The reality is this: Japan qualified and played at all nine Rugby World Cup tournaments, going back to 1987, but they’ve won only eight times in 33 matches. They’ve lost 23 times and drawn two matches.

In 1991 Japan beat Zimbabwe 52-8, but then in 1995 at the tournament in South Africa they suffered the massive 145-17 defeat to New Zealand in Bloemfontein. In 2007 and 2011 they registered 12-all and 23-all draws against Canada and then properly came to life four years ago in England.

They beat the Boks 34-32 in a Pool B game in Brighton and also registered wins against Samoa and the USA, but lost to Scotland, and because they failed to pick up any bonus points finished third in the pool and missed out on a place in the quarter-finals - becoming the first team to win three out of four and miss out.

South Africa's Makazole Mapimpi tackles Japan's Kotaro Matsushima during the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match at Tokyo Stadium. Photo: AP Photo/Mark Baker

This year they won four out of four, including beating Ireland and Scotland, to top Pool A and featured in the quarter-finals. Against the Boks in the last eight clash they copped a 26-3 beating. Japan were a joy to watch in the tournament; they thrilled their fans and everyone else watching around the globe. They played sparkling attacking rugby and deservedly won against very poor Ireland and Scotland teams, but despite them today occupying eighth spot in the world rankings, they’re not good enough to play in the Rugby Championship.

There is no doubt though Japan have made wonderful progress in the world game over the last four years but we also need to bear in mind they rode a wave of momentum in their own back-yard in the last month or so, lifted by the occasion of hosting the tournament. Let’s not forget two weeks before the start of the tournament the Boks beat them 41-7. And while they played with spirit, heart and fire in their quarter-final against the Boks last Sunday, they were well-beaten.

I’d also predict that every other quarter-finalist would have got the better of them on the day.

It’s one thing getting up for a World Cup every four years but doing it regularly, year in and year out ... Let’s just use Italy as an example.

They pushed for years to be admitted to the Six Nations and finally got their break in 2000. In their 20 seasons though they have played 100 matches and won 12. In 10 of those campaigns they failed to win a single game. Italy have, like Japan, also played at every Rugby World Cup, but they have never progressed beyond the pool stage, so has their joining the Six Nations helped their development? It hasn’t.

South Africa’s 
Damian de Allende 
is tackled by Japan’s 
Ryoto Nakamura during their RWC quarter-final 
match in Tokyo. Photo: Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo

For now I believe Japan should continue to play in the Pacific Nations Cup, the annual Tier Two competition which includes Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, USA, and Canada, but sure, play more regular Tests against Tier One nations but the Rugby Championship is a bridge too far.


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