JAPAN FACE TOUGHEST TEST YET IN 2019
For the first time in history, Rugby World Cup will be coming to Japan in 2019, the ninth clash of nations since the tournament began in 1987. It is also the first time that the event will be held in Asia and hosted by a 'non-traditional rugby nation'.
The Japanese national team are indeed brave to be taking on the host nation role as an 'underdog'. However, looking back on their promising performance in 2015, it doesn't seem all that gloomy for the team in the run up to Rugby World Cup 2019™.
How far have the team developed over the years?
Rugby in Japan dates back to the 19th Century and the Japanese national team have been part of all eight Rugby World Cup tournaments. In the first seven, Japan only secured one win against Zimbabwe in 1991. To summarise, in 24 matches played, they achieved 21 losses, 2 draws and 1 win.
In England, 2015, the Japanese finally had their break-through moment. The achievements were eye-opening to say the least as they attained their biggest accomplishment at any Rugby World Cup. The team entered the pool stages with a notable 34-32 victory over South Africa, described by the press as the "biggest upset in rugby union history".
This gave Japan the confidence to succeed by securing a further two wins against Samoa (26-5) and the USA (28-18). The momentum from the Japanese performance carried over to sweep across the entire nation. Japan set a world record for national viewing figures for a Rugby World Cup game, with 25 million people tuning in to see Japan's win over Samoa.
While Japan achieved their greatest victories to date, it was unfortunately an end to their 2015 tournament. Even though the Japan national team bagged three pool wins, this was not enough to see them through to the quarter-finals. Scotland, who secured the same number of wins as Japan, were just ahead on two bonus points, allowing the team to qualify. The two teams will meet again in 2019, and a similar battle will be fought to take a top two place in the group pool.
The rise in rugby's popularity following the 2015 tournament carried over to the 2015-2016 Japan Rugby Top League, surging over 20 percent compared to the previous year. In addition, the Super Rugby tournament announced the introduction of the Japanese Sunwolves as well as two other teams to be included from 2016 onwards.
How will Rugby World Cup 2019 pan out for the Japanese national team?
Japan will seek to keep up the momentum they started in 2015 and attempt to win, for the first time, a place in the quarter-finals. This will be challenging for Japan, being grouped with teams such as Ireland, winning team of the 2018 Six Nations and Scotland, who blocked Japan's chance of making the quarter-finals in 2015. The team will no doubt be putting up a strong fight to avoid a repeat of the last heartbreak. If Japan take second place in the pool stages, they are likely to face New Zealand in the next round. Could we see another major upset in rugby history?
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