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Must-win opening match puts the heat on Japan

By Online Editors
Michael Leitch on the training pitch. (Photo by Behrouz Mehrai/AFP/Getty Images)

The public awareness campaign has gone into overdrive at the Rugby World Cup, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe receiving the red-and-white jersey of the national team from captain Michael Leitch.


And soon Leitch’s line-up will have their first genuine taste of the expectation which comes with being tournament host when they play Russia in the opening match on Friday.

An upset win over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup swelled Japan’s fan-base at home and abroad and has added to the expectation that they may also be the giant-killers of this year’s tournament.

New Zealand-born Leitch was one of eight players selected in Japan’s match-day 23 who were involved in that boilover against the two-time RWC champions four years ago.

Japan will have to be quickly into stride as they need to beat Russia by a large margin if to have a chance of progressing to the knockout rounds.

Points differential could come into play in deciding the top two teams in what seems to be an even pool.

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After Russia, Japan plays Ireland, then Samoa, making their last pool match against Scotland a possibly decisive contest for second place if Ireland tops the pool as expected.


“We have prepared well for our goal of making the quarterfinals,” Leitch said after his team’s 41-7 loss to South Africa in their final World Cup warm-up game earlier this month.

The loss to South Africa was not in any way indicative of Japan’s comparative standing with Tier One nations or of any decline in its ability since the last World Cup.

Coach Jamie Joseph used the match for experimentation and to adapt a game plan to those of their pool opponents.

Former All Black Joseph is aware of the pressure that will be on his squad in the opening match and for the remainder of the World Cup, and is sure his team can cope.


“Everyone understands how important this event is going to be but none more than our staff and the players themselves. We want to make everyone proud,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russia may still be startled to find themselves at the centre of the spectacle after the opening ceremony.

The 20th-ranked Russians were lucky to qualify, doing so only after Romania was disqualified for fielding ineligible players.

Their warm-up form has not been impressive given they have conceded 162 points including 24 tries in their last three matches.

Japan: William Tupou, Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Lomano Lava Lemeki, Yu Tamura, Yutaka Nagare, Kazuki Himeno, Pieter Labuschagne, Michael Leitch (capt), James Moore, Wimpie van der Walt, Asaeli Ai Valu, Shota Horie, Keita Inagaki. Res: Atsushi Sakate, Isileli Nakajima, Jiwon Koo, Luke Thompson, Hendrik Tui, Fumiaki Tanaka, Rikiya Matsuda, Ryohei Yamanaka.


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Morne 11 minutes ago
Thanks but no thanks, the All Blacks do not need to copy the Boks

Some further observations: Most Rugby lovers I know agree that the AB’s have been the gold standard for as long as anyone can remember - very few people disagree. The odd time that any other team has some sort of ascendency - there are always those (albeit the minority) NZ supporters that need to remind us of the AB’s glorious gold standard that anyone winning them is only down to a mixture of pure luck or some or other sinister reason or bias from match officials (or indeed the Universe). For reasons mentioned above, any other team with some ascendency over the AB’s (even if it is the 1st time in 100 years) may not receive a pat on the back and a well-done - as they only did so out of pure luck. In my opinion, if the Boks were in the same realm as the AB’s SF opponents - they would have been smashed also - whether with 14 or 13 or 12 players. But remember they were just “lucky”. As a Bok supporter, I will say this team has done our proud - despite losing some games along the way. Like the AB’s, the games the boks lose are 9/10 times one score games - this is a long way from hidings like 57 - 0…And in that we must be proud. Most of these type of articles - especially those focusing on the RWC final rather conveniently leave out any mention of Pieter Steph du Toit, or even Eben Etzebeth who won all their collusions all day long. So to those very very few bad loser AB supporters out there (definitely the minority) - I’ll say what you want to hear - the AB’s are without any doubt the best Rugby brand ever. They have consistently achieved what all other teams can only dream of. And no doubt they will scale those heights again. Now what about allowing others the odd ray of sunlight that comes our way?

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