TOWNSVILLE, Australia — Three days on and Australia is still abuzz with the performance of the Cherry Blossoms.
From the rugby-oriented shows on TV to the national and local newspapers, nothing but praise has been poured on the Japanese team, which won over this sport-loving nation with its tenacious, battling display in a 32-11 loss to Scotland at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Sunday night.
And the performance may have some far-reaching consequences.
“It was fantastic,” said International Rugby Board CEO Mike Miller. “Japan are very keen to host the 2011 World Cup and I think they’ll put a very good bid in.”
Australia Rugby Union chief John O’Neill joined in the praise saying, “Japan showed they are here to play and they play a very nice brand of rugby.”
O’Neill went on to say that the ARU is looking at ways of including a Japan team in the competitions organized by the Southern Hemisphere rugby bodies.
“Potentially we are looking at a competition under Super 12 and maybe even down the track, you wouldn’t exclude a Japanese team being included in the Super 12,” he said.
The crowd and dignitaries may have taken great delight in Sunday’s game but the Japanese players knew this was a great opportunity that they let slip.
“We are disappointed,” said captain Takuro Miuchi. “No member should be totally satisfied with the performance. We are here to win not have a good game.”
Reuben Parkinson, who was many journalists’ choice for Man-of-the-Match, said that he knew the Japanese were good enough to match it with the Scots.
“It’s just disappointing when you see the bad passes and missed tackles that cost you the game.”
However, the New Zealander went on praise the team spirit that has surfaced within the squad.
“We have pulled together really well since coming to Australia and have a really good team atmosphere that has allowed us to become more confident.”
That spirit was certainly evident on Sunday when a large number of the players spent a night on the town with their Scottish counterparts, many of whom spoke of their relief at leaving Townsville with five points.
For now the focus for the Japan team is Saturday’s game against France and the team is well aware of the task facing it.
“I was very impressed with the French,” said Japan backs coach Mark Ella following the team’s training session on Tuesday evening.
“I haven’t watched all the games, but from what I have seen France put in the best performance of the tournament so far when they beat Fiji — better than the All Blacks and better than the Wallabies.”
The training session at the Townsville Sports Reserve was open to the public and fullback Toru Kurihara did his bit for Japan-Australia relations by posing for photos and signing the shirts of the many school kids who turned up to watch before he too turned his attention to Saturday’s game.
“I hope I start the game,” he said. “I really like the French style of rugby and watched the France-Fiji game.
“Their backs are very strong but I don’t think we have any plans to start fighting like the Fijians,” he joked.
Both sides will have some inside knowledge on one another.
Daisuke Ohata and Yuya Saito both spent a season playing in France, though Saito is likely to once again sit out with his injured ankle, while France’s center Tony Marsh will no doubt have asked for some information from his twin brother, Glen, who plays for the NEC Green Rockets.
For the Japanese players it is essential that they continue where they left off on Sunday. With the crown guaranteed to be behind them, the last thing they need is a poor performance that destroys all the good they have done.
“The boys were just made aware that there is a great deal of interest in and respect for Japan following Sunday’s game,” said lock Adam Parker. “We can’t let ourselves down now.”
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