Japan, a team, a "foreign legion" and a surprise against Ireland

To defeat the Irish favorites, Japan relied on the performances of Lafaele, Thompson and Labuschagné, three players born outside his territory. Like the majority of his team.

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The second line Luke Thompson carried the "Brave Blossoms" against the Irish. Jae Hong / AP

After the "Miracle of Brighton", and its victory against South Africa at the 2015 World Cup, Japan has won the luxury, Saturday, September 28, to beat Ireland (19-12) for its second match of "His" World Cup. If the Japanese rugby team keeps surprising, its composition also attracts the attention of rugby fans. The nationality of the coach, Jamie Joseph? New Zealander. That of Captain Michael Leitch? New Zealander. Same thing for the doyen of the competition, the second line Luke Thompson aged 38, and author of a clear fault against Ireland (100% successful tackles).

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On the starting XV lined up against Ireland, eight players were born out of the archipelago. A habit taken from the first World Cup and whose coach of the Japanese team is the perfect example. Before coaching the "Brave Blossoms", Jamie Joseph had donned the red and white tunic in the 1999 edition, he who wore the shirt of the Blacks four years earlier in Johannesburg, in the final lost to South Africans.

In a country little known abroad – the tenniswoman Naomi Osaka can testify – this brewing is claimed by its players, from six different nationalities. "The strength of this team is its diversity. By fighting together, Japanese and foreign players will, I am sure, get good results "explained Michael Leitch a few days before the start of the competition. A diversity so vaunted by the third wing, Lappies Labuschagné, promoted captain against Ireland, for his fifth tenure. " This is the way small stones become a big rock and that's what we do on the field, 23 different men working together for the same purpose. "

Flexible rules

Born in Pretoria, Labuschagné took advantage of the flexibility of the regulations imposed by the International Rugby Federation (World Rugby) to join the Japanese team. After playing three consecutive years in the top league, the local championship, the South African has become selectable within the "Brave Blossoms". In June 2019, he was called for the first time for the Pacific Nations Cup and quickly established himself as a pillar of the team.

This rule is one of the three exceptions set by the International Rugby Federation allowing a foreign athlete to play for another national team than that of his place of birth. Two other cases are provided for by the regulation: to be descended from a parent or grandparent born in the country or to have lived there for more than ten cumulative years.

Like Labuschagné, a large part of the players take advantage of the possibility given to a player installed for three years in a country to represent him internationally. To stop the phenomenon, World Rugby decided in 2017 to change this rule. Starting in 2021, this residency requirement will be increased from three to five years, according to the federation. to guarantee a close, credible and established link between a union and the players, which is good for rugby and good for fans ".

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Far from being an isolated case

Japan is not the only country to benefit from these largesse. A study conducted by the StubHub ticket resale site estimates that 22% of the players selected at the World Cup are not born in the country for which they play, a figure that reaches 61% in the Samoas team. , first of the ranking – because, in particular, of the strong immigration ilienne towards New Zealand or Australia. Japan, with 45% of foreign players, is ahead of Tongas and Scots (48%). And only three nations are composed only of players born on their territory: Russia, Uruguay and Argentina.

In France, the rules established by the federation are a little more rigid. To be selectable, players must have French nationality. A situation that had prompted Maks Van Dyke, the young stalwart of Stade Toulousain, to ask Emmanuel Macron for his nationalization in the Top 14 final in June. And that had also resulted in an emotional sequence, when in 2014, Scott Spedding, a South African-born back, broke down in tears after learning to be naturalized.

After his exploit against Ireland thanks to his "foreign legion", Japan has temporarily taken the lead of his group, and a serious option for qualifying for the quarterfinals of "his" World.

Read also Rugby World Cup 2019: Group A as Attractive

Vincent Bresson


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