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'Exactly how you want to see the game played': Greater test exposure demanded for 'glorious' Japan

By Sam Smith
British and Irish Lions v Japan – The Vodafone Lions 1888 Cup – Murrayfield Stadium

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While it was the British and Irish Lions who scored the victory, it was the performance of Japan who had many raving following the two teams’ clash at Murrayfield on Saturday afternoon.

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The 28-10 win kicked off the Lions’ tour to South Africa and marked the first time the composite side had assembled since their drawn series with New Zealand in 2017.

While the Lions are only expected to come together once every four years, however, national sides like Japan play matches every year, under normal circumstances. The world has not been operating under normal circumstances over the past 18 months, however, thanks to the global pandemic, and Japan haven’t played a test match since the 2019 World Cup.

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That wouldn’t have been obvious to any out-of-the-know bystanders on Saturday, however, as Japan operated like a well-oiled machine – bar the odd hiccup here and there, and out-scored the Lions 10-7 in the second half of the match.

Their performance was a reminder of how well the tier two nation played at the last World Cup, where they bested both Ireland and Scotland to top their pool and progress through to the quarter-finals.

After that tournament, a number of unions around the world unsurprisingly tried to tee up matches with the developing rugby nation. With sizeable stadiums on offer – and growing prowess on the field – test series with Japan would produce high-quality rugby as well excellent financial benefits for all involved.

It was England who were quickest out of the gates and lined up a two-match series with the Brave Blossoms for July 2020, while there were rumblings that France would travel to the Land of the Rising Sun this year.

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COVID-19 scuppered both those plans, however, with the Japanese test team hibernating for all of last year – though they were originally scheduled to take part in the Autumn Nations Cup, before they also pulled out of that competition.

As such, Saturday’s game marked the first test match that Japan has played since 20 October 2019, well over 600 days ago.

Their return to the field was understandably welcomed by fans from all corners of the world, with the Brave Blossoms’ expansive, creative play-style appreciated around the globe.

Many took to social media to express their pleasure at seeing Japan back on the rugby field – even if they weren’t quite a match for the British and Irish Lions.

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There were some, however, who lamented the fact that Japan hasn’t had more opportunities to play top-tier teams – both over the past 18 months but also further back in time.

After the 2019 World Cup there was much discussion about whether Japan should be added to The Rugby Championship or the Six Nations, though no definitive conclusions were reached.

At present, Japan irregularly take part in the Pacific Nations Cup, competing against the likes of Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and sometimes USA and Canada. They have no other annual competitions, however.

While the Lions are now set to head to South Africa for their test series with the Springboks, Japan will remain in Europe and will line up against Ireland next weekend.

They have also confirmed games against Ireland and Scotland in November, though it’s expected the more matches will be added to their international calendar.

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'Exactly how you want to see the game played': Greater test exposure demanded for 'glorious' Japan

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