The Japan rugby team

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The story of the Brave Blossoms

In the run-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup on home soil, Japan and its Brave Blossoms are gaining strength, to the point of competing with the best teams in the world.

The Japanese rugby team is called the Brave Blossoms (or Cherry Blossoms). It's run by the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU). The Japan team plays with a white striped jersey.

Rugby in Japan, 1874

The Brave Blossoms at the Rugby World Cup in 2015

Historic matches

The debut of Japan's rugby team dates back a few years after the foundation of the JRFU in 1926. On January 31, 1932 in Osaka, Japan played its first international match against Canada. Japan won 9 to 8. In 1968, they enjoyed their first major victory against the Junior All Blacks in New Zealand, with a score of 23 to 19. Three years later, in 1971, the Japanese team lost the game to England, 3-6. In 1989, Japan, led by coach Hiroaki Shukuzawa, defeated a  Scottish squad at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium (Tokyo) 28-24.

Japan in the Rugby World Cup

The Japan team has participated in eight of the Rugby World Cup tournaments organized since 1987. However, the Brave Blossoms have never advanced beyond the pool stage. In the first seven tournaments, Japan enjoyed one win against Zimbabwe in 1991. It was at the 2015 World Cup in England that Japan had three victories in four matches against Samoa (26-5), the United States (28-18) and notably against South Africa on September 19th in Brighton. That day, Brave Blossoms' Eddie Jones snatched a victory in extremis against the Springboks, 34-32. This is, so far, the most spectacular victory in the history of Japan's rugby team. Despite this feat, Japan was eliminated from its pool during a match against Scotland.

Japan's Rugby World Cup wins

1987 / Eliminated in pools / 3 losses

1991 / Eliminated in pools / 1 win, 2 losses

1995 / Eliminated in pools / 3 losses

1999 / Eliminated in pools / 3 losses

2003 / Eliminated in pools / 4 losses

2007 / Eliminated in pools / 1 draw, 3 losses

2011 / Eliminated in pools / 1 draw, 3 losses

2015 / Eliminated in pools / 3 wins, 1 loss

Total: 28 matches, 4 wins, 2 draws, 22 losses, 526 points scored, 1259 conceded

Ayumu Goromaru

On the cusp of the world's Top 10

Japan also participates in the Pacific Nations Cup and the Asian Rugby Championship, a competition that the Brave Blossoms have largely dominated since 1969, with 23 league titles in 28 tournaments. Japan is considered the best Asian rugby nation. As of August 28, 2017, Japan's team is ranked 11th in the world, beaten by the New Zealand All Blacks. Japan made two brief appearances in the Top 10, in 9th position in 2014 after winning against Italy in Tokyo, then in 2016, following the 2015 World Cup.

Goal: 2019 World Cup

Japan's rugby team is tackling "its" World Cup as an underdog. In 2016 they appealed to a New Zealand coach, Jamie Joseph, a former All Blacks player, to help them prepare for and compete in the upcoming competition. The team includes experienced players such as second-row Hitoshi Ono, a record-holder in Japan (98 matches), two captains, hooker Shota Horie and half-opener and center Harumichi Tatekawa, and back Ayumu Goromaru, Japanese points record holder with 708 points in 57 selections. The majority of the players selected are sunwolves from a club in Tokyo evolving in the Super League, an international competition.

Hooker Shota Horie (right) is one of the two captains of Japan's rugby team

Shota Horie (right) is one of the two captains of the Japanese rugby team

In 2019, Japan will seek to keep up the momentum started in 2015 and attempt to win, for the first time, a place in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.

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