WORLD RANKING: 13
SUMMED UP IN THREE WORDS: Inventive, Proud, Competitive
THE HEAD COACH: Japan head coach Eddie Jones may no longer be considered a top coach, but he remains a well-respected voice in the game. He took over the Cherry Blossoms in 2012 and since has produced commendable wins against Italy and Wales. Jones is best known for his time in charge of the Wallabies between 2001 and 2004, which included their Rugby World Cup final defeat in 2003.
FAMILIAR FACES: Lock Hitoshi Ōno is one of the Japan’s best-known figures and is also the Cherry Whites most capped player of all time with 94 Test caps. Luke Thompson and Ayumu Goromaru have also been ever-present over the last decade, winning a combined 110 caps.
KEY PLAYER: One of Japan’s most experienced players, Kensuke Hatakeyama has been key to the Cherry Blossoms recent success. The respected scrummager played in all four of Japan’s World Cup Pool matches in 2011 and will offer a dynamic presence in the loose at the upcoming World Cup.
YOUNG GUN: After impressing with his form playing for the Japan Sevens team, Yoshikuza Fujita became the youngest ever player to represent Japan at the age of 18 years and 210 days. The wing wizard has already, aged 21, won 27 Test caps with an incredible return of 25 tries.
STYLE: The hosts of the 2019 World Cup are regarded as the best team in Asia but have always struggled defensively when it comes to the World Cup. However, the popularity of sevens in the country means their Test side can play some super free-flowing stuff when they are in the ascendency.
BEST RWC MOMENT: Their only win at an RWC was a 52-8 thrashing of a poor Zimbabwe in 1991, but they have since recorded two memorable draws against Canada in 2007 and 2011.
WORST RWC MOMENT: Would be their heavy 145-17 defeat to the All Blacks in 1995, which to date remains the most points conceded in a game at an RWC finals.
COMMENTATOR’S GO-TO FACT: Japan forward Michael Broadhurst is the older brother of All Black squad member James.
EXPECTATIONS: Japan fans are crazy for their rugby and will dream of their side reaching the knockout stages for the first time in their history. The supporters will hope to at least finish fourth in their Pool, building momentum towards their home tournament in 2019.
VIEW FROM THE STANDS: Jason, 27, Tokyo
How has Japan been improving? Massively, the sport is getting more and more popular over here. We are hosting the next World Cup, which I am very excited about, and we, as a result, are taking massive strides to improve the team. For example the recruitment of Eddie Jones as the coach, he will be able to set them up properly unlike before when the set up was rather mediocre.
How do you think they will do at the World Cup? It is hard to say, we have had mixed fortunes against the USA down the years. The Pool is rather open, but finishing off the bottom of the Pool would be fantastic to boost the team’s morale for in four years time.
Who do you think will win it? I watched Australia win the Rugby Championship and thought they were superb. Although New Zealand are obvious favourites, I fancy the Wallabies.
RUCK VERDICT: The Cherry Blossoms have always been an enjoyable team to watch. However, under Jones they have become less focused on putting on a show and have now adopted the roofless steak needed to get results at Test level. A third place finish isn’t unthinkable, and it will probably come down to their crunch match against Samoa.
19/09/2015: South Africa vs. Japan, Brighton Community Stadium. Kick off 16:45
23/09.2015: Scotland vs. Japan, Kingsholm Stadium (Gloucester). Kick off 14:30
03/10/2015: Samoa vs. Japan, StadiumMK (Milton Keynes). Kick off 14:30
11/10/2015: USA vs. Samoa, Kingsholm Stadium (Gloucester). Kick off 20:00
Total travelling between games: 321 miles
Forwards: Keita Inagaki, Masataka Mikami, Kensuke Hatakeyama, Hiroshi Yamashita. Shota Horie, Takeshi Kizu, Hiroki Yuhara. Luke Thompson, Shinya Makabe, Shoji Ito, Hitoshi Ono. Michael Leitch (captain), Ryu Koliniasi Holani, Michael Broadhurst, Hendrik Tui, Amanaki Lelei Mafi, Justin Ives.
Backs: Fumiaki Tanaka, Atsushi Hiwasa. Harumichi Tatekawa, Yu Tamura, Kosei Ono. Craig Wing, Male Sa’u.Kenki Fukuoka, Akihito Yamada, Karne Hesketh, Yoshikazu Fujita.Ayumu Goromaru.Kotaro Matsushima, Toshiaki Hirose.