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'It's about belief in our game' - Japan are becoming rugby's great entertainers

Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown back their team to take risks and attack with intent.

Japan were a delight to watch against Ireland.
Japan were a delight to watch against Ireland.
Image: ©INPHO

THE ALL BLACKS will always be a unique draw in the world of rugby, with their skill levels consistently at elite levels, but Japan are fast becoming the sport’s great entertainers.

The Brave Blossoms were absent from Test rugby for a long time due to the pandemic and yet it almost felt like they had never been away at times in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.

Having tuned themselves up against the Lions a week before, their thrilling attacking play against Ireland brought us immediately back to the 2019 World Cup, where Jamie Joseph’s side won hearts and minds on their way to a first-ever quarter-final.

The tempo, skill level, and sheer creativity of their attacking play is, for many supporters, an antidote to some of the less ambitious rugby on display around the world weekend after weekend. 

Japan lost in Dublin but they won many more new fans thanks to their exhilarating style of play.

Highlights included Yu Tamura’s frankly ridiculous grubber kick assist for Siosaia Fifita’s second-half try, several more of the out-half’s kicks, Timothy Lafaele’s intelligent contributions, and the pleasing passing skills of the entire Japanese side.

Head coach Joseph was dejected with the 39-31 defeat but proud of the manner in which his players stayed true to their philosophy.

“What’s important for us is that we’ve got to find a way to play more experienced teams and teams that are a lot bigger than us,” said Joseph when asked about Japan’s attacking style.

“If we try to play the same way as other teams, we don’t have a chance of winning.

yu-tamura Yu Tamura was outstanding against Ireland. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“We’ve got a very good attack coach in Tony Brown, very innovative. But the key really is that the players have the confidence to play like that and that’s a really pleasing step forward for us not having been together for a long time.

“To be able to go up against teams like the Lions and Ireland and have that self-confidence to pull that off is a real step in the right direction for us.

“Obviously when you play like that, you’re going to have some errors in your game but for us, it’s about belief and confidence in our game and putting our best foot forward in how we want to play the game.”

Ireland took this encounter as seriously as they could have, Andy Farrell picking his strongest and most experienced available team. The lesson had been learned in Shizuoka in 2019 – Japan cannot be underestimated.

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They will be back in Dublin for a November Test later this year and it’s clear that the Japanese are here to stay as a top-level international team. They will be ones to watch again at the 2023 World Cup in France, while it would seem crazy for the Rugby Championship not to integrate them.

“The experiences at the World Cup have opened the eyes of a lot of people around the game of rugby in Japan and outside of Japan,” said Joseph.

“I feel there is a respect for us as a team now. I’m really proud of how the boys played and we’ll just have to play a bit better when we come back to Dublin in November.

“I thought we played some great rugby at times and for a team that hasn’t been together for nearly two years, it’s a good sign for us.

“We were able to bring in a few new players and assess their performances against two strong teams in the Lions and Ireland, both very different games. We’re very pleased with the two opportunities but it’s pretty gutting to lose that Test.” 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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