Japan aiming to reach new highs on RWC stage
The last time John Kirwan was involved in a Rugby World Cup on home soil he proved one of the stars of the tournament, helping New Zealand to lift the Webb Ellis Cup back in 1987.
Twenty-four years on that remains the All Blacks’ only RWC success, but while Kirwan hopes that monkey will disappear from New Zealand backs, he has another target in mind, helping Japan secure their most successful ever tournament.
Kirwan, heading to his second RWC as Japan coach, has set the Brave Blossoms the target of winning two of their Pool A matches, a return which would secure them automatic qualification for RWC 2015 as the third ranked team.
Japan ended a run of 13 consecutive RWC defeats with a 12-12 draw with Canada at France 2007 and the Canucks, along with Tonga, are the sides that Kirwan’s men will be aiming to beat in New Zealand.
However, Kirwan also wants Japan to be competitive in their first two matches against France on 10 September at North Harbour Stadium, and hosts New Zealand four days later in Hamilton.
More complete outfit
“I am very happy with the side,” said Kirwan. “We have spent the last four years putting the team together and everyone understands how we want to play. We have a good mix of youth and experience.
“We are a much more complete team than four years ago. It’s very important that we go to the World Cup with a settled side. This is a well established team, but they will need to prepare as it will be pretty intense over there.
“It’s important that we achieve the goals we set four years ago and that means being competitive in the first two games and winning the last two.”
Takeshi Kikutani will captain a squad comprising 16 forwards and 14 backs with Sione Vatuvei the only player to make the cut who didn’t feature in the successful HSBC Asian 5 Nations and IRB Pacific Nations Cup campaigns in 2011.
Vatuvei, who will follow in the footsteps of his older brother Luatangi Samurai Vatuvei - a member of the Japan squad at RWC 2007, earned his spot at the expense of Tadasuke Nishihara, labelled “a good player for the future” by Kirwan.
The vastly experienced wings Hitoshi Ono and Hirotoki Onozawa are the two oldest players in the Brave Blossoms’ squad at 33, while flanker Michael Leitch is the youngest member at 22.
Japan squad for RWC 2011:
Forwards: Hisateru Hirashima, Naoki Kawamata, Yusuke Aoki, Shota Horie, Hiroki Yuhara, Kensuke Hatakeyama, Nozomu Fujita, Hitoshi Ono, Toshizumi Kitagawa, Luke Thompson, Justin Ives, Takashi Kikutani (captain), Michael Leitch, Sione Vatuvei, Ryukoliniasi Holani, Itaru Taniguchi.
Backs: Fumiaki Tanaka, Tomoki Yoshida, Atsushi Hiwasa, James Arlidge, Murray Williams (Toyota Industries Shuttles), Yuta Imamura, Ryan Nicholas, Koji Taira, Alisi Tupuailai, Hirotoki Onozawa, Kosuke Endo, Takehisa Usuzuki, Shaun Webb, Taihei Ueda.
Squad subject to RWCL approval.
- South Africa
- New Zealand