Japan have become the 11th team to secure their place at Rugby World Cup 2021, playing in 2022, and will face USA, Canada and Italy in Pool B.
One of 12 teams that contested the inaugural tournament in Wales in 1991, Japan will make their fifth Rugby World Cup appearance in New Zealand next year.
Let’s take a look at the country’s Rugby World Cup history.
RWC debut: 6 April, 1991 v France at the Diamond Sports Ground, Cardiff
RWC appearances: Played 17 – Won 3, Lost 14 – Points for 143, Points against 677 – Win ratio 17.6 per cent
Best finish: Eighth, 1994
Qualification for RWC 2021: Highest ranked nation in the region at the time the RWC 2021 Asia qualification pathway was revised.
Most memorable match: Japan made their tournament debut at the inaugural women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991, losing both pool matches against France and Sweden. Three years later they earned revenge against Sweden, beating the Scandinavians 10-5 in their Pool A encounter in Melrose. Victory was enough to secure Japan’s passage to the quarter-finals, where they were beaten by France.
Iconic moment: Following a 15-year absence, Japan returned to Rugby World Cup action in Ireland in 2017. Having lost their opening Pool C match against eventual semi-finalists France, Japan stunned hosts Ireland during the first half of their second. When full-back Mayu Shimizu converted her own try minutes before half-time, it gave the Sakura 15s a 14-0 advantage. Japan led until the 65th minute and the result remained in the balance until the closing stages, when Paula Fitzpatrick scored her second try of the match to put the seal on a 24-14 Ireland win.
Low point: Japan appeared at three of the first four Rugby World Cups but then went a decade and a half without qualifying for the showpiece tournament. Kazakhstan beat Japan in the final round of the Asia qualification pathway for RWC 2006, 2010 and 2014.
Iconic player: A co-founder of Liberty Fields, the first women’s rugby team in Japan, Noriko Kishida was 45 when she appeared at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1991. In spite of her age, she lined up in Japan’s front-row for the pool matches against France and Sweden. Having acted as a de-facto team manager on the road to Cardiff, she returned to the tournament 11 years later when she coached her country at RWC 2002 in Barcelona.
Did you know? The Japan squad that travelled to Cardiff for Rugby World Cup 1991 contained two players in their 40s, Kishida and Mitsuko Tanaka. Second-row Tanaka went on to play in the next tournament in Scotland three years later, which was held one month short of her 47th birthday.
Quote: “The skill level of the players is really high. A lot of them have spent development time coming through sevens in their clubs and other environments. With their willingness to learn and willingness to work at things, already the buy-in from the players is so strong. In addition to that, it is still quite a young squad so the potential for them to grow is massive.” – Japan backs and skills coach, Louise Dalgliesh.