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Youthful, confident and dangerous, Japan are out to make their mark at World Cup

We take a closer look at the second of Ireland’s Pool C opponents.

THERE’S UNDER A week to go until the Women’s Rugby World Cup kicks off in Dublin, so it’s time to run the rule over Ireland’s Pool C opponents. Tom Tierney’s side open their campaign against Australia on 9 August with their second assignment coming against Japan four days later.

World ranking: 14

Form: WWWLL

players celebrate a try by Honoka Tsutsumi Japan will make their first WC appearance in 15 years this month. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Style:

Japanese rugby is riding the crest of the wave at the moment and their women’s team arrive in Dublin for a first World Cup appearance in 15 years determined to continue on that upward trajectory by upsetting the established order.

Ranked 14th in the world, Japan will be seen, on paper at least, as the easiest of Ireland’s Pool C assignments but their free-flowing, explosive style means they carry a dangerous threat not to be taken lightly.

Japan’s squad is the youngest in the tournament (average age of 23) with almost half of their panel under the age of 21, but their lack of experience is offset by a play-with-no-fear attitude instilled by head coach Goshi Arimizu during his three years in charge.

Recent results have helped confidence levels, too, and they go into next Wednesday’s opener against France off the back of three successive victories — including back-to-back wins over Hong Kong to retain the Asia Cup for the third year in a row.

While the French camp have already labelled Japan as something of ‘an unknown quantity’, Ireland have had the advantage of playing two uncapped fixtures against their pool opponents back in June.

On both occasions, Ireland came out the right side of a tight scoreline but it was patently clear what Japan will bring to the party when the sides renew battle lines for real in UCD on Sunday week.

Youthful, confident and extremely dangerous with ball in hand, Japan have the capacity to hurt any team and even a cursory glance at the highlights from those games in Belfield gives an indication as to the brand of rugby they like to play.

Their gameplan is very much dependent on solid set-piece possession and once ball is in hand, there is an instant desire to spread it wide and create the space for their speedy and explosive backs — Ireland saw that first hand after conceding seven tries across 160 minutes.

Source: Irish Rugby TV/YouTube

Six of the squad, including dangerous winger Honoka Tsutsumi who caused Ireland untold problems, featured in the Rio Olympics or World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series and there is certainly a sevens-style approach to their play.

Arimizu has placed a huge emphasis on improving skills and while Japan are not the biggest team in the competition, they can be considered as one of the fittest and well-drilled with a lot of what they do based around speed and agility.

What are they saying?

Japan are not in Ireland just to make up the numbers and while their world ranking suggests they’re one of the weaker teams in the tournament, there is a steely and focused determination to follow the men’s team and make a significant mark on the world stage.

“We are aiming to reach the top eight,” the head coach said of the team’s ambitions for this tournament.

“These players are the ones who are capable of competing hard in tough matches against international powerhouses on the world’s big stage.”

“No one on our squad knows the reality of tough battles at the Women’s Rugby World Cup. Reaching the top eight in the World Cup is an unknown world for Japanese rugby, too, but we’d like to make it for sure with our players and staff members.”

The players are also fully aware of the added significance of this tournament for the sport with a productive campaign likely to boost interest levels ahead of the staging of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Aoi Mimura claims the line out Japan place huge emphasis on the set-piece. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“Our men’s national team moved us and gave us hope at the Rugby World Cup in 2015,” captain Seina Saito added. “We also want to make sure this tournament will be remembered by many people.

“For the sake of our predecessors who have led Women’s rugby this far and those who will take on future roles in Japanese Women’s rugby, we want to achieve our aim of reaching the top-eight in Ireland, and then hand it over to RWC 2019 in Japan.”

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Big question: Can Japan bring their A game to the big stage? 

Unlike other teams who have arrived in Ireland over the last seven days, Japan come into the tournament with a solid foundation behind them having had five competitive fixtures in the last two months.

We were given a glimpse of the team’s potential during their brief visit to Dublin in June and they continued their first tour of Europe since 2004 with an annihilation of Wales before similarly emphatic performances against Hong Kong.

There is no doubt Japan have all the credentials to bring a huge amount to this tournament — both on and off the pitch — but the question is will they be able to deliver on that potential on the biggest stage?

17 of the squad were involved in the successful qualification campaign but more than half have played just five international games or less and bridging that experience gap will be key.

Key woman:

In a relatively small team, powerful number eight Mateitoga Bogidraumainadave stands out not only for her imposing size but her belligerent and influential performances from the back of the scrum.

A member of Japan’s sevens side and a star performer during the Women’s Sevens Dublin tournament at UCD in 2015, Bogidraumainadave is a central figure for Japan and they’ll look to the 93kg forward for go-forward ball.

As mentioned previously, Japan place huge emphasis on the set-piece, particularly the line out, and more often than they go to the maul with Bogidraumainadave acting as the cog in that wheel.

(SP)CHINA-HONG KONG-RUGBY-WOMEN'S SEVENS SERIES-FINAL-JPN VS RSA Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

How can Ireland beat them?

First and foremost, Ireland will be expected to beat Japan and if they don’t it would be a huge shock and a fatal blow to the hosts’ World Cup hopes — but at the same time Tom Tierney and his players are fully aware of the task they face on the second matchday.

We have spoken about their devastating ability at one end of the pitch but the footage from Japan’s most recent outings also highlights a striking defensive vulnerability, something which allowed Ireland to snatch two close victories in their last meetings.

For all of Japan’s breakdown skills, ball retention and attacking intent, there is a weakness in defence which Ireland should be able to exploit with direct and powerful running as well as smart game management from the likes of Nora Stapleton.

Up front, Ireland will have a far greater advantage and while the Japanese maul is one of their strengths the hosts should look to nullify any threat with quick line speed in defence and a focus on not getting caught narrow and subsequently exposed on the wings.

Japanese fans at the game Japan will bring plenty of colour and excitement to the tournament both on and off the pitch. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Tierney and the management will have learnt valuable lessons from the two trial games in June and Ireland will look to put that into practice next week.

Forwards:

Makoto Ebuchi (Aoyama Gakuin Univ/Tokyo Phoenix RC)
Mizuho Kataoka (Yokohama TKM)
Seina Saito (Pearls) (capt)
Ayano Sakurai (Nippon Sport Science Univ)
Yui Shiozaki (Tokyo Phoenix RC)
Yuki Sue (Arukas Queen Kumagaya)
Ayaka Suzuki (Arukas Queen Kumagaya)
Sayaka Suzuki (RKU Rugby Ryugasaki Grace)
Misaki Suzuki (Tokyo Phoenix RC)
Maki Takano (Nippon Sport Science Univ)
Aya Nakajima (Arukas Queen Kumagaya)
Ai Hyugaji (Tokyo Phoenix RC)
Maiko Fujimoto (Yokohama TKM)
Mateitoga Bogidraumainadave (Arukas Queen Kumagaya)
Saki Minami (Nippon Sport Science Univ)
Aoi Mimura (Yokohama TKM)

Backs:

Keiko Kato (Setagaya Ladies)
Riho Kurogi (Arukas Queen Kumagaya)
Mayu Shimizu (Nippon Sport Science Univ)
Ai Tasaka (Arukas Queen Kumagaya)
Moe Tsukui (The Second HS, Tokyo University of Agriculture)
Honoka Tsutsumi (Nippon Sport Science Univ)
Makiko Tomita (Setagaya Ladies)
Iroha Nagata (Arukas Queen Kumagaya)
Yumeno Noda (Arukas Queen Kumagaya)
Eriko Hirano (Yokohama TKM)
Wasana Fukushima (Otemon Gakuin Univ)
Minori Yamamoto (Nippon Sport Science Univ)

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Ryan Bailey

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