Japan appear to be in good shape ahead of Rugby World Cup 2021 if results on their recent tour of Australia are an accurate form guide.
Having already beaten Fijiana 28-14 on the Gold Coast and Australia Barbarians 24-10 in Brisbane, the Sakura 15s finished the Tri-Series in style with a historic 12-10 win over hosts Australia at Bond University.
Now the Sakura 15s have just over four months to wait before taking to the field again, as Asia’s representatives at the global showpiece event in New Zealand.
Well done, Sakura Fifteen! 🌸— Japan Rugby (@JRFURugby) May 10, 2022
The team took on hosts Australia in their third and final clash of their spring 2022 tour.
Three matches, three wins. #RWC2021, watch out! 😉 pic.twitter.com/bv4mjq0HIQ
As draws go, the fate handed to Japan in Pool B could have been worse. The Sakura 15s will have been relieved to have avoided the two heavyweights of the test arena, England and New Zealand, in what will be their fifth tournament appearance.
However, their first assignment looks to be their toughest on paper as they go up against a Canadian side ranked number three in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings.
The Sakura 15s take on the Rugby World Cup 2014 finalists at the Northland Events Centre, Whangarei, on Sunday 9 October.
It is 28 years since the sides last met at Rugby World Cup 1994. Canada came out on top on that occasion, running in nine tries for a 57-0 win at the Greenyards in Melrose.
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After one North American encounter, Japan face another in their second Pool B fixture as they take on USA at the same venue on Saturday 15 October.
Like Canada, USA played Japan at Rugby World Cup 1994, and won well. In fact, the 121-0 scoreline was a record at the time and is still the third-highest points tally and win in a women’s international.
World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee, Patty Jervey, and Amy Westerman scored five tries apiece as the Women’s Eagles crossed the Japan line on 21 occasions.
It remained a record tally for a women’s Rugby World Cup match until New Zealand went one better against Germany four years later
While Japan will face a tough ask to turn around history in those two fixtures, they will be a different proposition to the team that flew the flag for Japan all those years ago.
Realistically, their best chance of success will be in their concluding fixture against Italy, played at the Waitakere Stadium in Auckland, on Sunday 23 October.
Japan have lost both their previous Rugby World Cup fixtures against the Azzurre, in 2002 and 2017, failing to score a try in either.
But they held Italy to a 17-17 draw in L’Aquila as recently as 2019, a real shock considering the gulf between them in the rankings, and have improved markedly since then under the coaching team of Leslie McKenzie and Louise Dalgliesh.