The Rugby World Cup will kick off today in England. Japan, which has appeared in all of the past seven tournaments since 1987, has set a goal of reaching the knockout stage for the first time. Meanwhile, New Zealand seeks to become the first team to win back-to-back titles, while England prepares to grab its second Webb Ellis Cup on home soil.
Japan coach Eddie Jones has set a bold goal for his team at the Rugby World Cup: Reaching the last eight on the sport’s largest stage.
To achieve the goal, Japan has conducted a series of long-term training camps that started in the spring, an unprecedented move for a national team.
Although some might wonder why a nation that has posted only one win in the previous seven Cups has set a goal of advancing past the pool stage and reach the quarterfinals.
The key strategy for the Brave Blossoms as they try to shock the world is ball possession.
Upon announcing the Japan squad at a press conference on Aug. 31, Jones revealed how his Brave Blossoms plan to attack their opponents at the World Cup. The Australian, in no uncertain terms and with conviction in voice, said his team will pursue a “unique” style that puts focus on the strength of his players.
Gradually but steadily, the Brave Blossoms have developed a style under the slogan “the Japan Way,” since Jones assumed the post in April 2012.
The most important aspect of “the Japan Way” is to dominate ball possession as much as possible. Needless to say, the team that takes advantage of its time with the ball can better control the game. But there is an ulterior motive: increasing the amount of time Japan possesses the ball as a means of decreasing the time the players have to spend defending to offset Japan’s size disadvantage.
However, this means the Brave Blossoms might sometimes have to pass the ball around inside its own territory. And Japan’s courage to take risks will be tested.
Getting more involved
Japan’s rivals in Pool B — South Africa, Scotland, Samoa and the United States — have an obvious advantage in physical strength. Jones aims to overcome this issue by increasing the number of players involved in attacks and increasing the speed of Japan’s attacks.
After breakdowns, he wants his players to move quicker than the opponents and get into position to attack. By increasing the number of players involved in attacks, Japan figures to have more passing options, making it difficult for opponents to key on specific players. Once the attack starts, Japan will try to penetrate the defense by using high-tempo and rhythmical passes.
Players who got tackled do not have time to rest while on the ground. They need to immediately get to their feet to help reset the team’s formation. Continuing this series of moves takes a lot of energy, and the players will need a lot of stamina.
“Keep on moving the ball — that’s Japan’s method to counter bigger opponents,” said standoff Harumichi Tatekawa, who will lead Japan’s offense.
However, all of Japan’s work on its attacks did not pay off in a 45-20 loss to World XV in a warm-up on Aug. 15. Japan failed to quickly move the ball following breakdowns, diminishing the impact of their attacks. Jones pointed out that many players panicked under pressure from the world’s elite players.
Following the loss, Jones worked to improve attacks, demanding his players hold the ball as long as possible — down to the split-second — after being tackled.
“If we play in rhythm, I’m confident we will be able to score tries even against top teams,” Tatekawa said.
Players to watch: Harumichi Tatekawa (standoff), Shota Horie (hooker), Michael Leitch (flanker), Fumiaki Tanaka (scrumhalf), Ayumu Goromaru (fullback).