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The Underdogs: Japan

The Underdogs: Japan

The Underdogs: Japan

After one of rugby’s greatest ever wins in 2015, Japan maintained their form and reached the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals four years ago, now they come into the Summer Nations Series looking to repeat the feat.

That historic victory over South Africa in Brighton eight years ago put Japanese rugby onto the map and they have remained a strong presence ever since.

Success came in their own tournament, reaching the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time.

Now they travel to Rome looking to claim another big scalp ahead of their trip to France for the Rugby World Cup and we have a look at what they are likely to bring to the Summer Nations Series.

The Coach – Jamie Joseph

Jamie Joseph has seen it all in the game, from playing for New Zealand in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in South Africa to Japan’s incredible rise to global success.

The former No.8 played for the All Blacks 20 times before moving to Japan, who he would play for nine times.

Following spells in coaching with the Maori All Blacks and six years at the Highlanders, Joseph became Japan head coach, taking over from Eddie Jones in 2016.

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He was tasked with taking Japan further than ever before and taking them into the knockout stages.

In a group with both Ireland and Scotland that seemed a challenge but Joseph delivered as Japan advanced to the quarter-finals in first place, winning all four pool matches.

The Summer Nations Series and subsequent World Cup see Joseph’s time with Japan come to an end and he will want to go out with a bang.

Star Player – Shota Horie

One of Japan’s greatest ever players, Shota Horie has been there for the Brave Blossoms in their biggest moments.

Now 37, the hooker has an incredible CV on both the international and club stage, with his iconic long hair flying around synonymous with Japanese rugby over the past decade.

Horie played a full 80 minutes when Japan stunned the Springboks at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, showing his incredible work rate which would be seen again four years later.

In front of the passionate Japanese supporters, Horie was one of the players of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, with powerful ball-carrying and fearless tackling going alongside his obvious passion for his country.

He featured in all five matches for the Brave Blossoms – including another full 80 minutes in the 19-12 victory over Ireland.

Now he prepares for his fourth World Cup, where he will again be a hugely important player.

One to watch – Kotaro Matsushima

Another of Japan’s heroes from 2015 and 2019, Kotaro Matsushima is simply electric and with his rate for scoring tries is always one to keep an eye on.

He became the first Japanese player to score a hat-trick at a Rugby World Cup in the tournament opener against Russia and scored further tries against both Samoa and Scotland to take his tally to five – behind only Makazole Mapimipi and Josh Adams.

At home at full-back or on the wing, Matsushima will be a key component in the Japan side this World Cup but before that he has the mouth-watering potential clash with Ange Capuozzo in the Summer Nations Series.

Future Prospects 

Japan travel to Rome in Round 4 of the Summer Nations Series, against an Italy side who they have shared some battles with over the years.

First meeting in 2004 at the Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, where Italy won 32-19, the Brave Blossoms have since defeated the Azzurri twice, ten years later at the same stadium and a sensational 34-17 win in 2018 at the Oita Bank Dome.

That match is set to be a truly exciting occasion, before both sides head to France for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in September.

Drawn in a group with England, Argentina, Samoa and Chile, Japan will be hoping to put themselves among the established elite once more and make the last eight.

Before that though, they will be hoping to claim the scalp of the Azzurri and in the process win their first match against tier one opposition since the 2019 World Cup – and their first outside of Japan since beating South Africa in 2015.

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