Japan’s team blossom amidst big bucks and interest in rugby

2013-11-18 00:00

SPRINGBOK scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and centre Jaque Fourie, who recently returned from Japan to join the Bok team, both say the standard of the game in that country is much higher than what is commonly believed in SA.

Sceptics who have watched the two players’ performances in the green and gold since their return may be tempted to say they are merely saying nice things about the Japanese.

However, they maintain that if ever there was a team to watch South Africans should take note of Japan’s Brave Blossoms.

So far the search by the rugby world for a next world power since the advent of the professional era has been somewhat of a futile exercise.

Since their admission to the Six Nations’ series, Italy have only won 11 out of 70 games; Argentina have been without a win after two seasons in the Rugby Championships.

Unfortunately progress is happening at a snail’s pace. On Saturday Argentina were brought back to earth by Wales with a 40-6 win and Italy almost lost at home against Fiji. As soon as it seems as if there has been some progress, it flops again.

And America is not even mentioned: that country’s Eagles lost the first eight of their Test matches this year before they beat Georgia by two points on Saturday.

It is obvious: the absence of professional leagues in the second-tier countries keep them on the back foot.

It is different in Japan: as host nation of the World Cup championships in 2019, there is enough interest in the game of rugby in that country.

And the money is available. That’s the reason why veteran Test players such as Du Preez, Fourie, Sonny Bill Williams, Jerome Kaino, Danie Rossouw and Wynand Olivier have joined the exodus to that country.

The expertise by these Test players has rubbed off on the Japanese players and it is increasingly not only the famous Test stars that are flocking to Japan. The Sharks’ Riaan Viljoen and the EP Kings’ Wimpie van der Walt also developed a liking for sushi. After three years there it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Van der Walt in a Cherry Blossom jersey.

Japan’s national team have won eight of their 13 Tests this year — one against a (weakened) Wales team. Their team included New Zealanders by birth such as Luke Thompson and Michael Broadhurst.

The days of the World Cup embarrassment with their 17-145 loss against New Zealand in Bloemfontein in 1995 have been forgotten.

When Japan hosted the All Blacks two weeks ago their loss of 6-58 caused some excitement.

While Argentina and Italy may still be looking for explanations why their progress stuttered, the fleet-footed Japanese may cut through their lines to become the team with the potential to threaten the big eight.

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