Japan thinking beyond Rugby World Cup 2011

Former All Black John Kirwan, the Japan coach, says he has brought his team to Europe to help in their long-term development with future World Cups in mind.

The Brave Blossoms, as the Japanese rugby team have come to be known due to the cherry blossom emblem on their shirts, have made the long trip to Italy to gain some valuable experience.

Next week they return to Tokyo to face the USA before heading off to New Zealand for the World Cup.

However, this trip is more about building for the long term future than simply trying to get in some hard practice before the big competition kicks off.

“We have short-term goals and long-term goals. The long-term goal is to make the top eight in (the World Cup in) 2015 and then make our own final in 2019 (when the tournament will be held in Japan).

“As of 2012 we’ll start playing European sides in test matches. The scrum and set pieces are very different to how we play in the southern hemisphere.

“It’s about coming up to play against a very good scrum and a very good Italy side so we can prepare for the first two sides we play in the World Cup, France and New Zealand.

“We want to learn how to scrum against a different type of scrum and cope with the physicality at the break down.

“Our medium-term goal is to go from 12th to eighth (in the world rankings) so we must play Italy and Scotland and teams like that.”

Before taking over Japan, Kirwan also coached Italy and recently has been hired as an expert analyst on Italian television during Italy games.

It has given Kirwan a unique insight into Saturday’s opponents and he says that even whilst working for the TV company, he always kept his coaching cap on.

“As a coach more so than a broadcaster I watched five or six of our opponents’ games,” he said.

“I watched all of their Six Nations matches and November tests and I’ve presented my findings to the (Japanese) team just as I would for any other team.

“Nothing changes. I’ve got to prepare the team for their opponents, look at their strengths and weaknesses.

“I’ve done the same for the USA next week and for France, the All Blacks and Tonga. It’s important to prepare the team as best as we can.”

The Japanese team is not devoid of controversy due to the number of foreign players representing the land of the rising sun.

But although many of the players are not ethnic Japanese, Kirwan believes this is all part of a necessary process in improving the team for the future.

“We have nine foreign players. The Tongans (Sione Vatuvei and Ryukoliniasi Holani) and (Fijian) Leachy (Michael Leach) went there at nine (years old) to study.

“They have passports and are pratically Japanese. Others have played for three years in Japan and under IRB rules can play for the country.

“I’ve always said we must use foreigners to improve our results and then when we arrive towards 2019, the Federation needs to work very hard to always get more Japanese players in the team.

“But those who play for Japan are very proud to do so and will give more than 100 percent.

“Rugby is a world sport, we accept everyone. It’s not political.”

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