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'It feels like they have fallen away': Concern for Japan after 'emphatic' loss

By Ned Lester
Shogo Nakano with ball in hand for Japan XV. Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images

The Brave Blossoms have provided some of recent rugby history’s most memorable World Cup moments, claiming historic upset wins over South Africa and Ireland in the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, respectively. The team’s ascension has been a feel-good story enjoyed the world over but has recently hit some road bumps.

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A winless Autumn Nations Series in 2022 provided some moments of promise against some of the World’s top talent, Japan posted respectable scores against the All Blacks and France along with a hefty loss to England.

2023 however has not started well for the Brave Blossoms, or the Japan XV. Before the team kicks off their Pacific Nations Cup campaign on Saturday evening – where they have replaced Australia A in the competition and will face Fiji, Tonga and Samoa – they faced the All Blacks XV in Kumamoto and fell to a disappointing defeat.

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After New Zealand’s second team outdueled Japan’s equivalent side 38-6, Japan’s top side awaited the following week. While hoping to kick their World Cup year off with a win, Jamie Joseph’s men were beaten to the punch by an explosive All Blacks XV outfit.

“I’m concerned for the way that they were emphatically beaten,” Former All Black Justin Marshall said on The Breakdown. “Yes, it’s a very good All Blacks XV team but (Japan) were super competitive last World Cup and equally, they were competitive against the All Blacks when the All Blacks played them over there (last year).

“It feels like they have fallen away, I wonder whether or not it was mental, whether they’re seeing that as the All Blacks XV and not the All Blacks or not Australia and they’ve kind of mentally not got their head around how good of a side they were up against.

“Maybe when it gets to a proper Test match, an international, Jamie (Joseph) gets that fire in the belly and they get a little bit better mentally and they’re a better side because at the moment they’re way off.”

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Japan currently sit tenth in the World Rugby rankings and are in a highly competitive Pool C in the Rugby World Cup, facing England, Argentina, Chile and Samoa. The latter of which happens to be their first opponents in the Pacific Nations Cup.

A win against a Samoa side boosted by the addition of former Wallaby Christian Leali’iafano and former All Black Charlie Faumuina would help the team’s confidence get back on track but the three Pacifika nations won’t make life easy for the Brave Blossoms.

“I think for Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown, their coaches, I believe in some of the great things they have done,” Jeff Wilson added.

“They’ll learn a lot very, very quickly Japan and they’ll need to. They’ll need to be better than what they’ve shown in these two games.”

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1 Comment
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Ruby 359 days ago

They're in a weak pool, even if they've dropped off in the last 4 years they've got a realistic shot at a quarter final

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William 2 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Correct analysis of Perofeta’s bungling of the try opportunity Ben. Never ‘fixed’ Steward as he came across in defence and passed too early. Steward didn’t have to break his stride and simply moved on to pressure Telea. Never scanned the easier option of passing to the two supporting players on the inside. Beauden Barrett showed how it is done when he put Telea in for his try. Another point from the game is that the rush defence is hard to maintain as the number of phases increases. From scrums the defensive line only contains backs who all have roughly the same pace. Once forwards are involved, the defence has players with variable speeds often leading to a jagged line. It also tends to lose pace overall giving the attack more time and space. Beauden Barrett’s break to set up Telea’s try came because Baxter went in to tackle McKenzie and Steward went out to cover Telea. Barrett has a massive hole to run through, then commits Steward by passing as late as possible and Telea scores untouched. Another comment I would make is that Ben Earl is a good player and generally an excellent defender but he made three significant misses in the series, two of which led to All Black tries. Got stepped by Perofeta in Dunedin for Savea’s try, missed McKenzie in Auckland leading to what should have been a certain try being set up by Perofeta and was one of the tacklers who couldn’t stop Savea in the leadup to Telea’s first try. Perhaps he should contact Owen Farrell to pick up a few tips from ‘tackle school’.

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