Brave Blossoms proving to be a lot more than just brave

Japan has brought to rugby a free-flowing, energetic and sometimes electric style of play that is proving hard to beat and brilliant to watch. They call it gambatte.

TOKYO, 4 Oct - Dutch football had "Total Football" and Japanese rugby now has "gambatte" - the art of going a little further, trying a little harder, continuing to run into a brick wall even when it seems fruitless.

That philosophy has brought Japan two wins from two at Rugby World Cup 2019 and their style of play is best described as "well rounded".

When the analysts of Scotland and Samoa turn their attentions to Japan they will try and find their strengths and weaknesses. Most teams fall into stereotypes: free-flowing in attack but defensively suspect; hard to break down but not inventive; counter-attackers who are not that good if you do not kick to them etc.

Japan do not. They are free-flowing but their tackle success rate of 90 per cent is the third best in the tournament. They are counter-attacking but two of their five World Cup tries came from a set-piece and a third came from 13 phases of attack. So, what should Scotland and Samoa look at? 

 Japan are the fourth most likely team to throw to the back of the lineout and they are the most accurate at doing it. Throwing to the back of the lineout is a riskier throw but it gives you an opportunity to immediately attack the soft underbelly of the opposition defence.

Remember, defences are most worried about the space around the ball. It is easier to run in a straight line rather than to pass the ball all the way out to the wing. In this clip Japan are 43m away from the lineout just five seconds after winning it. They have got to the weakest part of the defence.

Japan knew they would win the ball at the back of the lineout and they have put their flanker Kazuki Himeno in the midfield. He gets to run hard at a pair of Irish backs; Chris Farrell and Garry Ringrose. Unsurprisingly he gets over the gain line.


Russia are anticipating defending a lineout on the far side of the pitch. Japan take it quickly and six seconds later Russia are defending a ruck 54m away.

Defences want to keep their forwards near to the ball. They are stronger but less mobile and better suited to tackling slower moving forwards rather than speedy backs in lots of space. Because of this teams try and filter their forwards towards each ruck and move their backs wider.

This is why in almost every game you will see that a group of forwards have made the most tackles. That is not possible to achieve when play is moving from one edge of the pitch to the other at this speed.

In 20 seconds Japan made seven passes and three rucks. That is not unusual. If action is why you like rugby then Japan are the team for you. Nobody else at the World Cup fits more passes and rucks into the time they have the ball than the hosts.

In this clip the speed of activity is too much for Ireland and they give away a penalty. The speed is too high for many teams to deal with. Just as with the lineout examples they cannot get the defenders where they want them to be in time.

The Japanese gambatte style of play has claimed two victims. If Samoa and Scotland want to avoid a similar fate they have to train to experience the chaotic attacking, the rampant speed, the attack from anywhere mentality. In short, they have to beat gambatte.

RNS sl/sdg/ajr