Japan women’s prop Saki Minami believes her team-mates can draw inspiration from the Brave Blossoms’ historic Rugby World Cup 2019 campaign as they plot their path to New Zealand 2021.
Minami captained her country on the July tour to Australia and will be involved again in L’Aquila on Saturday as Japan kick off their November test campaign against Italy.
The Sakura 15s then travel to Glasgow for a first-ever match against Scotland on 24 November. The two tests form a key part of the team’s preparation for next year’s Asia Rugby Women’s Championship, which doubles as a qualifying tournament for Rugby World Cup 2021.
“As our men’s team showed at the Rugby World Cup, we can earn support from many people and draw attention (to us),” Minami said.
“I want us to have a winning culture and be a strong team, which is our biggest target.
“At the same time, I would like a strong connection between us, not only among the players but also with the team staff members.”
Boost for Japanese rugby
Japan men’s march to the quarter-finals at Rugby World Cup 2019 was powered by the camaraderie among the Brave Blossoms squad, coaching staff and a growing number of fans.
Like more than 50 million of her countrymen and women, Minami was transfixed by the team’s success on home soil as the likes of Kotaro Matsushima and Kenki Fukuoka lit up the tournament.
“I felt so excited, just imagining what it would be like if I were on the field. That must give you something special,” Minami added.
“The Japan players were smaller in size than the other countries and lighter in weight too, but still we won against a tier one country like Ireland. I thought that was really great and I thought that I myself would like to experience that, too.
“There are some many people who watched the sport for the first time and got to know the game just because of the World Cup.
“We have women’s rugby and wheelchair rugby, too. So, hopefully, this can provide an opportunity to make many people know various kind of rugby and make all Japanese rugby boosted.”
Road to Rugby World Cup 2021
Preparations for Rugby World Cup 2021 qualification started to take shape in January when Lesley Mackenzie was appointed Japan women’s head coach.
The landmark tour of Australia followed in July as 13 uncapped players were handed their debuts. The two tests against the Wallaroos were both lost, by an aggregate score of 80-5, but Minami insists it was a positive experience for the young squad.
“Japanese women are small in size and that can be a disadvantage, however, we were able to apply pressure onto our opponents by coming forward with tackles in defence,” she explained.
“We also made gains little by little, by making the most of our hard work. If we can continue working on those points, I am sure we will be competitive against the powerhouses of the world.”
That theme of regeneration has continued into November, with a further seven new faces included in Mackenzie’s squad and only 12 survivors from the last Rugby World Cup retained.
Japan were beaten 22-0 by Italy at Ireland 2017 and Minami and her team-mates are determined to show their hosts how far they have progressed in the intervening two years.
“This time I would like us to score for sure,” she said. “I think Italy must be a new team, but I would like to show that we have changed and developed from the last time.
“I myself feel better as I am taking better care of my body than before and have improved from what I was in 2017.
“In addition, if we can create good trustworthy relationships within our team, we can rely on each other when we face a hard time. That is something I would like to develop more.”