Japan national rugby union team
The Japan national rugby union team (often known as the Cherry Blossoms, Sakura, and, more recently, The Brave Blossoms), is traditionally the strongest rugby union power in Asia and has enjoyed and endured mixed results against non-Asian teams over the years. Rugby union in Japan is administered by the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU), which was founded in 1926. They compete annually in the Pacific Nations Cup and previously in the Asia Rugby Championship. They have also participated in every Rugby World Cup since the tournament began in 1987.
|Nickname(s)||Cherry Blossoms/Brave Blossoms/Sakuras|
|Union||Japan Rugby Football Union|
|Head coach||Jamie Joseph|
|Most caps||Hitoshi Ono (98)|
|Top scorer||Ayumu Goromaru (708)|
|Top try scorer||Daisuke Ohata (69)|
|Home stadium||Chichibunomiya Stadium|
|World Rugby ranking|
|Current||8 (as of 21 October 2019)|
|Japan 9–8 Canada|
(Osaka, Japan; 31 January 1932)
|Japan 155–3 Chinese Taipei|
(Tokyo, Japan; 1 July 2002)
|Japan 17–145 New Zealand|
(Bloemfontein, South Africa; 4 June 1995)
|Appearances||8 (First in 1987)|
|Best result||Quarter-finals, 2019|
Rugby was first played in Japan's treaty ports as early as 1866. Popular participation by local university teams was established in 1899 and Japan's first recorded international match was a match against a Canadian team in 1932. Notable games for Japan include a victory over the Junior All Blacks in 1968, and a narrow 6–3 loss to England in 1971. Famous wins by Japan include a 28–24 victory over a Scotland XV in 1989 and a 23–8 victory over Wales in 2013. In the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Japan drew 12–12 against Canada. In 2011, Japan displayed its progress by winning the 2011 IRB Pacific Nations Cup, played against Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. Further progress was displayed in 2014 when Japan completed a string of ten consecutive test wins (a record for a tier 2 team) to rank in the world's top 10 teams. This continued into 2015 where they produced the first of their three biggest upsets when, in a Rugby World Cup pool match against the Springboks, they won 34–32.
In the years between, Japan faced quality opposition, playing relatively well with quality results including a tie against France, and a narrow loss to Wales at Cardiff. Their second shock win was a 19–12 defeat of world number-two ranked Ireland in a 2019 Rugby World Cup pool game. Emerging undefeated from the tournament's pool stage after a 28-21 victory over Scotland, Japan made their first ever World Cup quarter-final appearance, going down 3-26 to South Africa.
The first recorded instance of a team being established and rugby being played in Japan was in 1866 with the founding of the Yokohama Foot Ball Club. Games, mainly between service personnel, were played on the Garrison Parade Ground in Yamate, Yokohama. In 1874 records also illustrate British sailors staging a game in Yokohama. Other games were played at other treaty ports such as Kobe between teams of long-term foreign residents and visiting ships' crews and garrisons, but they rarely involved indigenous Japanese. The date of local Japanese participation in the sport is most frequently cited as 1899, when students at Keio University were introduced to the game by Professor Edward Bramwell Clarke and Ginnosuke Tanaka both graduates of Cambridge University.
The formation of a national team and effectively Japan's first international match took place in Osaka on 31 January 1932 when a trade delegation from Canada to Japan supported an overseas tour by the Canada national rugby union team. The Japanese won this first match 9–8. In a second test match in Tokyo 11 days later again the Japanese side beat the Canadians 38–5.
Japan beat the Junior All Blacks 23–19 in 1968 after losing the first four matches on a tour of New Zealand, but they won the last five. The Japanese (coached by Waseda University Professor Onishi Tetsunosuke) lost by just 3–6 to England in Tokyo on 29 September 1971 in the RFU's centenary year. The 1973 Japan rugby union tour of Wales, England and France was less successful with the side winning only two of their eleven matches, and losing the international matches against Wales and France. Ten years later Japan gave Wales a fright in losing by a slim five-point margin, 24–29, at Cardiff Arms Park on 2 October 1983.
On 28 May 1989, a strong Japan coached by Hiroaki Shukuzawa defeated an uncapped Scotland, missing nine British Lions on tour in Australia, for the first time at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, 28–24. The Japan team included such Kobe Steel stalwarts as centre Seiji Hirao (captain), and locks Atsushi Oyagi and Toshiyuki Hayashi (38 Japan caps and a member of Oxford University's all-time best XV). Sinali Latu at No. 8 was then a fourth year student at Daito Bunka University, and speedy Yoshihito Yoshida on the wing (no. 14) was a third year at Meiji University. Scotland missed an incredible seven penalties and refused the kicking tee which was generously offered – as a surviving video of the game shows. It was almost the same Japanese team which defeated Zimbabwe in RWC1991.
Under Shogo Mukai (2001–2003)
After Hirao resigned, Toshiba Brave Lupus coach Shogo Mukai was appointed in March 2001 to lead Japan up to the 2003 Rugby World Cup. After mixed fortunes in his first two years in charge, Japan put in some impressive performances at the tournament with good efforts against Scotland and France, nevertheless they still left the tournament having failed to reach their target of winning some matches but still won admirers for their exciting brand of play. Mukai left his post after the tournament to spend more time with his family.
Under Mitsutake Hagimoto (2004–2005)
After Shogo Mukai left after the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the JRFU initially tried to appoint Eddie Jones from his post with Australia but were unsuccessful and instead appointed Mitsutake Hagimoto in March 2004 after he won the inaugural Top League with the Kobelco Steelers. Under Hagimoto, Japan decided they would not select foreign born players after Mukai had been criticised for playing too many at the World Cup.
Hagimoto's first match in charge was a disappointing draw with Korea, but his first few matches in charge after that were promising with wins over Russia and Canada to win the Super Powers Cup and pushed Italy close losing 32–19.
However, in November 2004, Japan went on a disastrous tour to Europe where they were embarrassingly thrashed 100–8 by Scotland and 98–0 by Wales and also were comfortably defeated by Romania. Japan's performances were described as "pathetic", and the squad was called "a joke" with some key players ignored or not given permission to travel.
This disastrous tour forced a rethink from Hagimoto and foreign born players were brought back into the side in 2005, but after losing twice to Ireland in June he was sacked and with just 5 wins from 15 matches was the least successful coach for Japan in the professional era.
Under Jean-Pierre Élissalde (2005–2006)
After Hagimoto left his post at the end of June 2005, Jean-Pierre Élissalde who had been appointed backs coach three months earlier took full charge and became the first foreigner to be the head coach for Japan. His first match in charge was a 44–29 win over Spain in November 2005.
In 2006, despite a disappointing campaign in the inaugural Pacific Nations Cup in June where Japan lost all their matches, and also lost to heavily to Italy 52–6, Élissalde was backed to lead the side to the 2007 Rugby World Cup. But Élissalde was later sacked in September after he took on a job with Bayonne without consulting the JRFU and then refused to give up his job with them. Assistant coach Osamu Ota took over as caretaker coach for two Rugby World Cup qualifiers in November 2006.
Under John Kirwan (2007–2011)
After starting with large wins over the Asian opposition, Japan only won one of their remaining 10 fixtures in 2007, although in the 2007 Rugby World Cup they did gain a draw with a last minute touchline conversion from Shotaro Onishi against Canada to end a long losing streak of World Cup matches stretching back to 1991.
Results began to pick up after the 2007 World Cup and Kirwan led Japan up to a high of 13th in the IRB Rankings and to win their first ever Pacific Nations Cup title in 2011 after they beat Fiji away for the first ever time in Japan's history.
However, despite more positive results in between World Cups, Japan had a disappointing 2011 Rugby World Cup, losing 31–18 to Tonga who they had beaten four times in a row since 2008, and drawing again to Canada who they had beaten 46–8 and 27–6 in 2009, and Japan left the World Cup winless meaning they still had not won a match at the tournament since 1991. Kirwan came under pressure after the tournament and he resigned from his post after his contract came to the end at the end of the year.
The tenure of Kirwan as coach was notable for a large amount of imports he selected. Players who originated from New Zealand such as James Arlidge, Bryce Robins, Shaun Webb, Ryan Nicholas, Luke Thompson or Tonga such as Alisi Tupuailei and Sione Vatuvei all featured prominently under Kirwan. The large percentage of foreigners in the national team also caused criticism for Kirwan. However, despite failing to bring Japan a World Cup win, Kirwan left his post as the most successful Japan coach of the professional era with a win rate of 58.18% from 55 matches.
Under Eddie Jones (2012–2015)
Kirwan chose not to renew his contract as head coach when it expired at the end of 2011, and the Japan Rugby Football Union announced that former Australia coach Eddie Jones would be his successor. Jones stated that his intention was to take the Japanese national team into the top 10 on the international rankings, and that they must develop a style of play to allow them to win games against teams such as Scotland and Wales.
Jones made his debut as Japan head coach against Kazakhstan. He had selected a total of 10 uncapped players out of the 22 selected players. They went on to win the match 87–0. They then had a big win over United Arab Emirates where young 18-year-old Yoshikazu Fujita set a new Asian Five Nations record for the most tries in a single match with a total of 6. This was also Fujita's international debut.
In 2013, Jones led Japan to their sixth consecutive championship win in the Asian Five Nations, where Japan achieved a tournament record score of 121–0 against the Philippines. In May, the nation lost their opening match of the 2013 IRB Pacific Nations Cup to Tonga, followed by a defeat to Fiji in the second round. Following these matches, Japan faced a 2-test series against Wales. Japan lost narrowly, 18–22, in the first test, but won the second test 23–8, and the series ended in a 1–1 draw. This was the first time that Japan had recorded a victory over the Welsh.
On 16 October 2013, Jones was hospitalised after having a suspected stroke and was released from hospital 2 days later on 18 October 2013. After his release from hospital, it was announced that Jones would miss Japan's 2013 end-of-year rugby union tests against New Zealand, Scotland, Gloucester, Russia and Spain, and former Australia skills coach and current technical adviser for Japan Scott Wisemantel would interim coach Japan for their 2013 end-of-year rugby union tests.
On 19 September 2015, Japan stunned South Africa by a last minute try from Karne Hesketh to win 34–32 in their opening group pool game at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in Brighton, England. BBC reported the win as "arguably the biggest upset in rugby union history". In 2015, Japan became the first team in World Cup history to win three pool games but still be eliminated at the group stage, due to their heavy loss to Scotland.
Under Jamie Joseph (2016–present)
Jamie Joseph, former coach of New Zealand's Highlanders Super Rugby team and the Māori All Blacks, took over as head coach for Japan (and the Sunwolves Super Rugby team) in 2016. In the 2017 Asia Rugby Championship, Japan sealed their twelfth consecutive Asia Rugby Championship, winning all four games. They went on to defeat Romania 33–21 in the 2017 June rugby union tests, but lost to Ireland 2–0, during their first test series since 2005, losing the first test 50–22 and the second 35–13. In November 2017, Joseph led his side to a single win and a draw in four games. They started their End-of-year series with two consecutive home losses, a 27–47 loss to a World XV side and a 30–63 loss to Australia. Japan's first win came against Tonga 39–6 in Toulouse, France, before going on to draw with France 23–23, which was the first time that these two nations had drawn with one another.
During the 2018 June tests, Joseph led Japan to a 1–all series draw with Italy, winning the first test 34–17, and losing the second 25–22. The team then beat Georgia 28–0 at the Toyota Stadium.
Japan hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2019, and the team repeated their feat of a shock win in Brighton at the 2015 World Cup, this time beating world No. 2-ranked Ireland 19–12 at Shizuoka Stadium in Fukuroi, Shizuoka They reached the quarter-finals for the first time in the team's history after beating Scotland 28–21 at the International Stadium Yokohama in Yokohama that was battered by Typhoon Hagibis only the night before.
Rugby World Cup
Japan has participated in the Rugby World Cup since the tournament's inception in 1987, and has made appearances in all tournaments thus far. Despite this, they experienced little success until the 2015 tournament, with just one victory over Zimbabwe in 1991, and two draws with Canada in 2007 and 2011. In 2015 they defeated South Africa with a score of 34–32, their first win since 1991 against Zimbabwe, which they followed up with victories over Samoa and the United States in the same pool stage, but despite their 3–1 record failed to reach the knockout round.
They were the home team for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which was held in Japan.
In the 2019 World Cup, Japan were drawn in Group A alongside Ireland, Russia, Samoa, and Scotland. After a nervy opening night win against Russia (30-10), Japan went on to beat Ireland 19–12, a huge upset and a result few predicted. Their third group game against Samoa ended in another win, this time 38-19, while also securing a highly important bonus point (for scoring four or more tries).
In the highly anticipated final group game against Scotland, both teams needed to win to progress to the knockout stages at the expense of the other. The match went ahead despite pre-game worries that it would have to be cancelled due to the ongoing issues caused by Typhoon Hagibis. The pre-tournament rules stated that if the typhoon was sufficient enough to intervene, the game would be cancelled, and the result declared a draw. This controversial rule would have allowed Japan to progress by default due to previous results.
After final safety checks, the game was allowed to commence. Japan edged out Scotland 28-21 to register their second shock win of the tournament. They also became the first Asian nation to top their group at a Rugby World Cup, and the first Asian team to progress to the knockout stages.
Japan played South Africa in the quarter finals in Tokyo on Sunday 20 October 2019, kick off 19:15 JST. They kept pace with South Africa in the first half, but two tries and three penalties in the second half for South Africa put the game out of reach and Japan lost 26–3.
|World Cup record||World Cup Qualification record|
|Pool Stage||3||0||0||3||48||123||Automatically qualified|
|Quarter-finals||5||4||0||1||118||88||Qualified as hosts|
|To be determined||Automatically qualified|
Pacific Nations Cup
Asia Rugby Championship
Men's World Rugby Rankings
|Top 30 rankings as of 25 November 2019|
|*Change from the previous week|
|Japan's historical rankings|
|Source: World Rugby - Graph updated to 18 November 2019|
Wins against Tier 1 nations
|3 June 1968||Junior All Blacks
|Try: Yoshihiro Sakata (4)
Con: Tsutomu Katsuraguchi
Pen: Tsutomu Katsuraguchi
|Try: Mike O’Callaghan
Con: ??? (2)
Pen: ??? (2)
Referee: RC Fenton
|28 May 1989||Japan
|15 September 1998||Japan
Con: Murata (3)
Pen: Murata (4)
Drop: Ken Iwabuchi (2)
|15 June 2013||Japan
|14:00 JST (UTC+9)||Try: Wing 49' c
Broadhurst 60' c
Con: Goromaru (2/2) 49', 61'
Pen: Goromaru (3/3) 14', 34', 76'
|Report||Try: Prydie 44' m
Pen: Biggar (1/2) 21'
Referee: Greg Garner (England)
|21 June 2014||Japan
|14:00 JST (UTC+09)||Try: Yamada 4' c
Sa'u 59' c
Con: Goromaru (2/2) 5', 60'
Pen: Goromaru (4/5) 13', 22', 42', 48'
|Try: Penalty try 17' c
Barbieri 74' c
Con: Orquera (1/1) 17'
Allan (1/1) 75'
Pen: Orquera (3/3) 7', 35', 52'
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
|19 September 2015||South Africa
|16:45||Try: Louw 18' c
B. Du Plessis 33' m
De Jager 44' c
Strauss 62' c
Con: Lambie (2/3) 19', 45'
Pollard (1/1) 63'
Pen: Lambie (1/1) 54'
Pollard (1/1) 73'
|Try: Leitch 30' c
Goromaru 69' c
Hesketh 80' m
Con: Goromaru (2/3) 31', 70'
Pen: Goromaru (5/6) 8', 43', 49', 53', 60'
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
|9 June 2018||Japan
|14:45 JST (UTC+09)||Try: Mafi 17' c
Fukuoka 27' c
Lemeki 60' c
Matsushima 65' c
Con: Tamura (4/4) 19', 29', 62', 67'
Pen: Tamura (2/3) 33', 57'
|Try: Pasquali 14' c
Steyn 35' c
Con: Allan (2/2) 16', 37'
Pen: Allan (1/1) 51'
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
|28 September 2019||Japan
|16:15 JST (UTC+09)||Try: Fukuoka 59' c
Con: Tamura (1/1) 61'
Pen: Tamura (4/6) 18', 34', 40', 72'
|Try: Ringrose 14' m
Rob Kearney 21' c
Con: Carty (1/2) 22'
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
|13 October 2019||Japan
|16:15 JST (UTC+09)||Attendance: 67,666|
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Additionally, Japan tied
- Head Coach:
Caps updated: 20 October 2019
Notable former players
- Toshiyuki Hayashi, legendary lock with Kobe Steel, Oxford and Japan.
- Seiji Hirao, centre, former Japan captain and coach of Japan (RWC1999).
- Keiji Hirose, former fly-half, and previously the leading points scorer for Japan (now second).
- Kensuke Iwabuchi, the first Japanese to play professional rugby in England (for Saracens), also technical adviser to Sanix.
- Toru Kurihara, world record points scorer in one match, 60 points scored individually (6 Tries, 15 conversions).
- Sinali Latu, now coach of Daito Bunka University RFC.
- Yuji Matsuo, fly-half (stand-off), Shin-Nittetsu Kamaishi.
- Andrew Miller, fly-half for Kobe Steel and Japan.
- Takuro Miuchi, former number 8 and captain at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
- Wataru Murata, player of Yamaha Jubilo.
- Daisuke Ohata, world record try scorer (69 tries throughout his career).
- Atsushi Oyagi, lock, Kobe Steel and Japan, now a TV personality ("talento").
- Kenzo Suzuki, better known as a professional wrestler, Suzuki was capped for the national team as well.
- Yoshihito Yoshida, world class Japanese wing, known especially on the Sevens circuit.
- Ayumu Goromaru, former fullback and the leading points scorer for Japan.
Shigeru Kayama 1930–1934 Chuji Kitajima 1936, 1956 Takenosuke Okumura 1952–1953 Kozo Nishino 1958 Tomoo Chiba 1959 Masao Wada 1959 Kasai Yasujiro 1963 Onishi Tetsunosuke 1966–1971 Hitoshi Oka 1972, 1975, 1985–1986 Hisashi Yokoi 1972, 1976, 1978–1979 Ryo Saito 1974, 1976–1978, 1980–1981 Hiroshi Hibino 1976, 1982–1984, 1987–1988 Katsumi Miyaji 1978, 1984, 1987 Ryozo Imazato 1979 Iwao Yamamoto 1980, 1982, 1996 Hiroaki Shukuzawa 1989–1991 Osamu Koyabu 1992–1995 Seiji Hirao 1997–2000 Shogo Mukai 2001–2003 Mitsutake Hagimoto 2004–2005 Jean-Pierre Élissalde 2005–2006 Osamu Ota 2006 (Caretaker) John Kirwan 2007–2011 Eddie Jones 2012–2015 Scott Wisemantel 2013 (Caretaker) Ryuji Nakatake April/May 2016 (Interim) Mark Hammett June 2016 (Interim) Jamie Joseph 2016–
Japan traditionally plays with white and red hooped shirts (with white collar and cuffs) with a Sakura embroidered on the chest, paired with white shorts and white socks with red splashes. Between 2003 and 2011, the shirt was predominantly red with two white parallel hoops on the chest with white accents, sometimes with black or navy socks and shorts.
On July 4, 2019 the Japan Rugby Football Union on Thursday unveiled the national team's jersey for this year's Rugby World Cup, the shirt featuring a samurai helmet motif representing the tradition of Japan's warrior spirit. The combination of Samurai and Sakura (Cherry Blossom) has long been linked in Japanese culture.
The away kit usually consist of a navy blue uniform, white or navy shorts and navy blue socks, sometimes with white collar or panels, or black. The kit supplier since the 1960s is Canterbury. Currently, the jersey sponsors are Lipovitan D (in the front) and Toshiba (in the back). Previously, between 1997 and 2000, the shirt sponsor was Epson.
|7||Takashi Kikutani||Number 8||2005–2014||68||57||11||41||26||1||61.02|
|10||Takeomi Ito||Number 8||1996–2005||63||40||23||26||36||1||42.06|
|3||Takashi Kikutani||Number 8||2005–2014||68||57||11||160||32|
|7||Ryu Koliniasi Holani||Number 8||2008–2016||44||38||6||110||22|
|10||Takashi Kikutani||Number 8||2005–2014||68||160||32||0||0||0|
Most matches as captain
|1||Takuro Miuchi||Number 8||2002–2008||45||17||27||1||38.88||30||6|
|2||Takashi Kikutani||Number 8||2008–2013||34||21||12||1||63.23||110||22|
Most points in a match
|9||4 players on 30 points|
Most tries in a match
|9||10 players on 4 tries|
|1||Yoshikazu Fujita||Wing||18 years and 210 days||05/05/2012|
|2||Christian Loamanu||Wing||18 years and 338 days||16/04/2005|
|3||Ayumu Goromaru||(Fullback)||19 years and 46 days||16/04/2005|
|4||Terunori Masuho||Wing||19 years and 95 days||04/05/1991|
|5||Faulua Makisi||(Flanker)||19 years and 122 days||21/05/2016|
|6||Seiji Hirao||Centre||19 years and 129 days||30/05/1982|
|7||Dogo Maeda||(Fly-half)||19 years and 152 days||30/04/2016|
|8||Kenji Shomen||(Fly-half)||19 years and 165 days||13/10/2002|
|9||Masato Furukawa||Flanker||19 years and 167 days||21/05/2016|
|10||Yoshihito Yoshida||Wing||19 years and 226 days||01/10/1988|
|1||Luke Thompson||Lock||38 years and 187 days||20/10/2019|
|2||Hitoshi Ono||Lock||38 years and 50 days||25/06/2016|
|3||Wataru Murata||Scrum-half||37 years and 145 days||19/06/2005|
|4||Craig Wing||Centre||35 years and 289 days||11/10/2015|
|5||Hirotoki Onozawa||(Wing)||35 years and 71 days||08/06/2013|
|6||Hayden Hopgood||(Lock)||35 years and 30 days||29/08/2015|
|Satoshi Nakatani||Prop||35 years and 30 days||26/11/2016|
|8||Ross Thompson||Number 8||34 years and 341 days||21/06/1998|
|9||Glen Marsh||Flanker||34 years and 316 days||24/06/2007|
|10||Shoji Ito||(Lock)||34 years and 295 days||23/09/2015|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Japan national rugby union team.|
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- "Japan pull off greatest shock in World Cup history". ESPN. 19 September 2015. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
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- McCurry, Justin; Doward, Jamie (28 September 2019). "High fives and Guinness as Japan celebrates latest rugby shock". The Observer.
- Cary, Tom; Stokes, Ali (28 September 2019). "Sensation of Shizuoka: Japan shock Ireland with another historic Rugby World Cup upset". The Telegraph.
- Kitson, Robert (13 October 2019). "Japan hang on to reach Rugby World Cup last eight and send Scotland out". The Guardian.
- English, Tom (13 October 2019). "Japan 28-21 Scotland: Gregor Townsend's side out of Rugby World Cup". BBC Sport.
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- "RUGBY IN JAPAN NEWSLETTER Volume 9, No.30". rugby-international.blogspot.ca. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
- "Italy lose 26–23 to Japan in Tokyo" (in Italian).
- France and Japan draw 23–23 in Paris
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