The hour of truth has come. "We think we can beat Ireland and prove to the observers that they were wrong", said Yutaka Nagare, scrum half, to Katsuyuki Kiyomiya, vice-president of the Japanese federation, who said before the start of the competition: "Japan will win all its pool matches".
It must be said that the Japanese are on mission. It's their World Cup and their goal is to reach the quarter-finals, which goes through a win against Ireland and / or Scotland, the two favorites of the group.
On the face of it, however, few observers give Japan the winners on Saturday (September 28th) against Irishmen who wandered against Scotland (27-3) and won their seven games played in recent years against the Japanese, the last 35-17 in Tokyo in June 2017.
But, there is a but … Nobody has forgotten the precedent of the "miracle of Brighton". It was at the 2015 World Cup in England, and the players in the red and white jersey hit by "sakura", the cherry blossoms, had achieved the feat of beating South Africa (34-32) in the chicken phase. A victory over Ireland would be almost identical and would open a new page for this team whose integration into the world oval has been a long journey. Back on this journey.
It all started in 1926 with the creation of both a national federation and a national rugby team. This was done with the support of Prince Chichibu (1902-1953), brother of Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989), who had discovered rugby at Oxford.
These initiatives reinforced the acceptance of this sport, which was introduced in the archipelago in the second half of the nineteenth century by British soldiers based in Yokohama (South of Tokyo) and which had developed with the creation, in 1899 , a rugby section at Keio University.
The first steps of this national team on the international scene are successes: she won, at home in 1932, her first two test matches against Canada.
Building a style
After the war, Japan is working to develop its own style of play, adapted to the physique of its players, smaller than their opponents. It is Shiggy Konno (1922-2007), a figure of post-war rugby, who theorizes it: when one is small "You can catch the ball on the ground more easily, lower the pitch of the scrum, and move faster. This is where our strengths are and we must build on it ».
With these principles, Japan forges a team, which wins in 1968 against the Junior All Blacks and narrowly lost (6-3) against the English touring in 1971. Those who are then called the Cherry Blossoms also competed with Wales in Cardiff in 1983 (29-24) and beat Scotland, certainly without his best players, in Tokyo in 1989.
The complicated beginnings at the World Cup
With the creation of the World Cup in 1987, it's a new challenge for the Japanese. They are certainly present at each edition in the chick phases. But between 1987 and 2011, they won only one game, in 1991 against Zimbabwe. The Japanese team also holds the record for the biggest thrashing suffered during a world tournament: the defeat at Bloemfontein (South Africa) 145-17 against New Zealand in 1995.
Then there is the question of professionalisation. Japanese rugby is structured around universities and business teams, but it is difficult to evolve the model. In 2003, the federation created the Top League, a national championship whose goal is to raise the level and regain popularity.
In 2005, the national team recruited its first foreign coach, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Elissalde, with the task of preparing for the 2007 World Cup.
The structuring in view of 2019
This is the choice of Japan, in 2009, to host the 2019 edition of the World Cup that will give a boost. It seems out of the question for the Japanese rugby not to figure well in this future World at home and it thus passes by results.
The task is entrusted, in 2011, to the Australian Eddie Jones, who demands to have a free hand. The latter sets up a fierce selection, an uncompromising preparation and chose to massively integrate non-Japanese talents, starting with Captain Michael Leitch, a native of Christchurch (New Zealand).
The result ? The Japanese are discovering a star with the back Ayumu Goromaru, who remains the first marker in the history of Japanese rugby, with 711 points. And at the 2015 World Cup, the Brave Blossoms are offering themselves this victory against South Africa. But this one remains without a future: victorious also of the United States and Samoa, Japan does not qualify for the quarter-finals (because of the absence of bonus points).
The call to a "foreign legion" for the Cup at home
In cold weather with the players, Eddie Jones gives way to New Zealander Jamie Joseph, who played the 1995 World Cup for his homeland and that of 1999 for Japan. The style is more human but the preparation even harder.
A franchise, the Sunwolves, is created and integrated in 2016 at Super Rugby with clubs from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. It forms the backbone of the Japanese team.
It is largely composed of non-Japanese players: half of the 30 selected, like the right pillar Koo Ji-won, South Korean, or the captain, Pieter "Lappies" Labuschagne, South-African.
If this team beat Italy in the summer of 2018 (34-17), after a draw with France (23-23) in November 2017, it "Can not overwhelm a leading education", agrees Jamie Joseph. Who expects however a tight result against Ireland. "This match will have the same symbolism as that against South Africa in 2015. I want to achieve this goal. I am proud to have the opportunity to do so " warned Labuschagne.