Japan excited for WXV opportunity

Sakura 15s coach Lesley McKenzie believes World Rugby’s new global annual 15s competition will help the women’s game grow in Japan.

Japan coach Lesley McKenzie is excited for the start of WXV, believing it will help the Sakura 15s develop on the road to Rugby World Cup 2025.

McKenzie guided Japan to a 72-0 victory against Kazakhstan in the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship final in Almaty in May that booked their place in WXV 2 in South Africa next month.

The Sakura 15s have since beaten Spain and Fiji, both twice, to take a five-match winning run into their final warm-up test against Italy in Parma on Saturday.

Italy were the last team to beat Japan, winning 21-8 at the delayed RWC 2021 last October, and the Azzurre will also provide the opposition when the teams get WXV 2 underway in Stellenbosch on 13 October.

Whatever happens in South Africa’s Western Cape, McKenzie is certain it will be a crucial step on the team’s journey to England.

“[WXV2] is essentially the teams ranked seventh through 12th in the world,” she said. “It’s giving us the opportunity to play in an almost World Cup format against the teams that are essentially like for like, and it’s allowing us to continue to test ourselves.

“That regularity of competition is immensely powerful in terms of how we understand the next Rugby World Cup will go physically, mentally and how we develop our game towards that. So, it’s really exciting to us.”

Japan, who are also scheduled to play Samoa on 21 October and Scotland six days later in South Africa, twice beat Fiji as they began their WXV preparations on home soil earlier this month.

The Sakura 15s wrapped up a series win with a 41-26 win in Tokyo on 16 September, having secured a narrow 29-24 victory in the first test in Fukuoka the previous weekend.

“A massive congratulations to Fijiana for [providing] an incredibly challenging performance to play against,” McKenzie said.

“We were very lucky that they could prioritise coming to Japan in their preparation. We know how important that is and how vital games are for two emerging women’s teams and programmes.”

“This is going to be historic”

The 2-0 series defeat in Japan came on the back of the 19-18 loss against Samoa in the Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship 2023 final that consigned Fiji to WXV 3.

Fijiana will travel to Dubai next month to take on Colombia, Spain and Kazakhstan between 13-27 October and captain Sereima Leweniqila and coach Inoke Male insisted their time in Japan had been great preparation for that campaign.

“It's a lot of learning for us. Going against a quality side like Japan is a good test for us,” Leweniqila said.

Male and his captain are certain that World Rugby’s new annual global women’s 15s competition will have a positive impact on the game in Fiji.

“It’ll be a good boost for women’s rugby in Fiji,” Male said. “When we go to WXV, we will try to play well and come back later hoping to improve our ranking as well.”

Leweniqila added: “This is going to be historic for Fiji as well. We don’t usually get a lot of tests like Japan does. This year we’ve been getting a few matches with a few quality sides.

“In the past, we never had had those, so this is an opening for us, to open doors for the Fijiana women to get more tests against quality sides like Japan and maybe [more established] nations in the future.

“So, this is very important for the future of women’s rugby in Fiji.”

Last updated: Sep 26, 2023, 3:09:05 PM
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