Former Japan wing issues bold statement ahead of France clash
SPOTLIGHT: Former Japan wing Akihito Yamada said he hopes his country can “check themselves to see where they are” as they play France on Sunday.
The Brave Blossoms head to Toulouse after last weekend’s heavy loss to England to meet Les Bleus who scored an impressive win over Rugby World Cup winners South Africa and are unbeaten in 12 games.
“France are definitely a top team now. It’s a good opportunity for the Japan team to check themselves to see where they are,” he told AFP.
“Japan could win too. They can beat France,” he added.
Yamada, 37, now plays for Fukuoka’s Kyuden Voltex in Japan’s third tier after spells with three other sides at home as well as a stint with Seattle Seawolves in the USA and a two-month loan contract with Lyon in 2019.
“It was a little bit of a struggle with the language,” he said.
“Except for that part, it was a very good experience, especially being able to travel around Europe and meet rugby friends from all over the world,” he added.
Yamada is one of just nine Japan players to have spent time with clubs in France’s top two divisions with most of his compatriots choosing to stay in domestic competitions where clubs are well backed by multi-national corporations like Toshiba, Toyota or Honda.
Brave Blossoms fullback Kotaro Matsushima left Clermont at the end of last season after struggling off the field despite scoring 10 tries in 42 appearances.
“It’s difficult. Probably because of the language barrier a little bit and also financially-wise,” Yamada said.
“Japan is pretty good for Japanese players because of that.
“Maybe they just love spending time in Japan! They love Japanese food too much,” he added.
The last of Yamada’s 20 caps came four years ago and he started the famous win over South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Since the victory over the Springboks, the Brave Blossoms have reached the 2019 World Cup quarterfinals as hosts despite not being part of an annual top tier-tournament such as The Rugby Championship or Six Nations.
“It would be helpful for Japan to be involved,” he said.
“When we trained in 2015, and I trained in 2019, even though I didn’t play, we got stronger.
“It’s not 100 percent necessary even if we need it and would be better but I don’t worry too much about it,” he added.
This weekend in Toulouse, one of Yamada’s former Lyon teammates, scrumhalf Baptiste Couilloud, could feature for the hosts with starting halfback and captain Antoine Dupont set to be suspended.
Couilloud came off the bench for Les Bleus in July against Japan to claim the match-winner and the series with a 70th minute try.
“Size-wise, he’s similar to the Japanese guys. I like to watch him,” Yamada said.
“We trained together at Lyon. He is very skillful and has a lot of ideas.
“The Japanese side have to watch him if he plays. He talks a lot, he organises the team very well,” he added.