Japans , Sakura XV head into the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup knowing that a. they are the best team in Asia by a long shot and b. they are more than capable of providing an upset.
Sakura XV , Asian Women’s champions
The Sakura XV head to Ireland as Asian Women’s champions, having beaten Hong Kong – who have also qualified for the WRWC – both home and away.
Goshi Arimizu’s team, who are ranked 14th in the world, won 58-0 in Odawara and 60-19 at Hong Kong’s Kings Park with a side that gave Arimizu plenty to think about ahead of naming his squad on July 30.
“(In the second game against Hong Kong) I saw some players that showed a quality to play in the World Cup but I also saw some players that won’t be good enough,” he said.
“I will set my focus on how individual players played rather than the team when we review the performance.”
Team captain Seina Saito was also realistic as to how Japan would do if they did not raise their game.
“Our performance today is not good enough if we really want to aim to reach the top eight at the World Cup,” she said after the first game in Japan.
Centre Riho Kurogi was one of those that did catch the eye, scoring four tries in two games. And with a number of players that helped Japan qualify as a core team for next season’s World Sevens Series, Arimizu will be hoping Japan can repeat the form they showed in the final game of their mini tour of Europe earlier in the year.
Following two close losses to Ireland, the Sakura XV hammered Wales 52-10 to show they could create an upset of two when the tournament opens on Aug. 9.
Sakura XV, #WRWC2017 Pool C
Japan are pooled with France, Ireland and Australia in what is their fourth appearance at a World Cup.And the good news is they have got better in every tournament.
In 1991, Japan finished 0-3, including a 62-0 loss to France.
Three years later, they improved to 1-3, after beating Sweden 10-5 – though they did suffer two big losses to the United States (121-0) and France(99-0).
Kazakhstan were Asia’s representatives in 1998, 2006, 2010 and 2014, meaning Japan’s last tournament was 2002.
That year, the team finished 13th after beating the Netherlands 37-3 and Ireland 18-0, following two earlier losses to Spain and Italy.
“It was different then, we didn’t get as much support as they do now,” said Keiko Asami, skills coach in 2017 and a player and try scorer in the 2002 tournament.
“The pool of players was smaller than it is now. We had to come up with our own solutions to a lot of problems. This helped to lay the foundation to where we are now.”
Asami became head coach of the sevens team in 2011 and said it was “obvious we had to enhance the players’ physical strength as well as their playing skills.”
And it is that strength and conditioning that she hopes will enable the Sakura XV to blossom in Ireland.
“It would be a great occasion if the Japan team wins (in Ireland),” she said. “It would be a great opportunity for the Japan team to gain media exposure.”
“The desire to play and win is very strong and I think this is the strength of the team.”