Pool B - Japan
Japan arrives at France 2007 as the finest rugby talent that Asia has to offer. Unfortunately, Asia isn't offering much. A second-tier rugby nation at best, Japan falls between adequate and good, performing well against Asian and low class Pacific opponents but struggling against established rugby nations.
Japan's tournament record is embarrassing. While they have participated in all five World Cups, they have won just one game out of 16. And in 1995 Japan lost 145 – 17 to the All Blacks, the greatest number of points ever conceded at the finals.
Coincidentally, Japanese rugby success lies with an All Black. The appointment of Kiwi legend John Kirwan as head coach has given the Cherry Blossoms a much-needed boost. Kirwan has developed a speedy game plan that appeals to Japan's speed and agility – although this game plan floundered in Japan's 19 August defeat to Italy.
Kirwan has set Japan an attainable, yet unlikely goal – two Pool B wins. The Cherry Blossoms could beat Canada, but will be outclassed by all other Pool B adversaries.
Coach: John Kirwan (NZ)
Captain: Daisuke Ohata
IRB Ranking: 18
Appearances: 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003
Odds to win: 1500/1
Number of clubs: 4050
Number of Registered players: 126,124
Matches MT W D L
16 1 0 15
Points For Against
Scores Tr Con Pen DG
36 21 28 3
At 6'2” and 107 kg, Takuro Miuchi is Japan's monstrous number eight known for his big hits, good hands and ability to punch the ball forward with power. With 34 test matches, Miuchi has had a tempestuous relationship with the Cherry blossoms. His captain's status was revoked in 2006 only to be reinstated in 2007. Miuchi currently plays for professional Japanese side NEC Green Rockets.
Kiwi flanker Philip O'Reilly is a Cherry Blossoms newcomer, but is quickly becoming a solid starter. Debuting in 2006, O'Reilly has won six caps, scoring seven tries. Plays with typical New Zealand flair – hard hitting and aggressive with a solid work-ethic. At 6'3” and 100 kg, O'Reilly's size ensures he is an ever-visible on-field presence. Currently plays for Japanese Top League franchise the Sanyo Wild Knights.
The New Zealand full-back Bryce Robins is another recent addition to the Japanese squad. In six games, he has earned coach Kirwan's confidence and is set to start in France 2007. Six feet tall and 86 kg, Robins is an above-average sized full-back. Aggressive and with safe hands, Robins demonstrates poise and comfort in defence. Since 2004 Robins has played with Japanese side the Ricoh Black Rams.
Rugby in Japan
Two graduates of Cambridge University, introduced the sport in 1899, but it may have been played before that at the treaty ports, especially Kobe and Yokohama, between teams of long-term foreign residents and visiting ships' crews. Rugby still takes second place to baseball and football in Japan, but has a very large number of registered players at 126,124, the fourth largest in the world. Japanese players have traditionally been at a physical disadvantage against the larger European or Southern Hemisphere players, but this is gradually changing.