Japan ready to climb Everest in World Cup endeavour
SPOTLIGHT: Japan coach Jamie Joseph said that despite “a mass of problems” his team was preparing to scale Everest at the World Cup.
Japan are ranked 14th in the world, below three of the four teams in their group and lost three of their four warm-up games, finishing with a 42-21 beating by Italy in Treviso.
Joseph reportedly showed his squad a picture of Mount Everest.
“I want the players to understand that the challenge is going to be big,” he explained on Saturday in Toulouse, where his squad will be based.
“With the arrival in France, we’re just getting really into the dead zone. The World Cup is a dead zone in the sense that if you lose a test match, you know it will be hard.”
Yet Japan, who kick off against Chile in Toulouse next Sunday, have thrived in that dead zone in the last two World Cups, winning seven of their last eight group matches.
In 2015, the Brave Blossoms won three out of four group games, but failed to pick up any bonus points and finished third behind South Africa and Scotland.
As hosts in 2019, Japan scaled their Everest in style, winning all four group games before going down to eventual champions South Africa in the last eight.
Joseph, who succeeded Eddie Jones after the 2015 World Cup and says he will quit after this one, has picked 14 players aged 30 or older. Four other players in the squad are 29. Back-row forward Mike Leitch, Joseph pointed out, will be playing in his fourth World Cup.
“The teams who have done well in the past, we have analysed that it’s the teams that always have a lot of experience,” Joseph said. “When it comes to the crunch, comes to dealing with pressure, the guys who can play under those circumstances tend to be the most experienced guys and that’s the ones we have selected.”
Japan are in a tantalising Pool D. Their second match is again England, finalists four years ago but seemingly in freefall. Next comes Samoa, who Japan have beaten at the last two World Cups but who edged a warm-up game in July, and finally Argentina, who habitually thrive under World Cup pressure.
Captain Kazuki Himeno said the formula was simple.
“It’s about dead or alive. It’s just all about putting your everything, your life into everything you do.”
As Japan settle onto their base in Toulouse, they are, like all squads, worrying about their diets while fielding questions on French cuisine.
Joseph was tactful.
“French food is good, the wine is probably better and just in case, we brought our Japanese chef.”