Hitoshi Ono, a veteran lock for Japan’s national team, is set to make his third appearance at the Rugby World Cup and said with a smile that playing on the sport’s biggest stage never gets old.
“In order to make the team for the World Cup, you’ve got to avoid injuries, and you need some luck, too,” Ono, 37, said after coach Eddie Jones on Monday revealed his 31-man squad for this year’s World Cup in England, which will begin on Sept. 19. “So these 31 men are special, and I’m happy to be one of them.”
Ono, who has a record 93 caps in test matches for Japan, will no longer be satisfied to just make the trip to the World Cup. This time, the national team is determined to produce some wins, and ultimately make it to the final eight. The team’s members, including Ono, believe the history of Japanese rugby will change if that happens.
But what if they can’t achieve that goal? They’ll miss a golden opportunity to spread the sport to a wider audience as Japan heads toward hosting duties for the 2019 World Cup.
Japan has competed in all seven previous World Cups but has posted just one win, which came against Zimbabwe during the 1991 edition.
“If you don’t come up with results in the World Cup, you won’t get anything,” said Ono, who plays for the Toshiba Brave Lupus of Japan’s domestic Top League. “Once the World Cup is over, you won’t get another opportunity to promote the game until the next World Cup. We’ve got to win by any means. We want to advance to the final eight and have people’s eyes on us and rugby.
“Rugby is the sport that I’m putting everything I’ve got in my life into, and the best promotion is when the national squad puts up victories. So it’s a great chance for us (in this World Cup).”
Jones, who led Australia to a runnerup finish at the 2003 World Cup, expects Ono to be one of the leaders for the Brave Blossoms, ranked 14th in the world, based on the his experience.
Ono, who began playing rugby when he was at Nihon University at age 19, recalled that during his past World Cup appearances he felt massive pressure, the likes of which he’d never before experienced, in the dressing room.
“You even feel the fear,” said Ono, a 192-cm athlete from Fukushima Prefecture.
To avoid getting into a mental disadvantage, you just have to be better prepared coming in the matches at the World Cup.
Ono and many of the other national team players insist they’ve practiced as hard as they possibly could over the last four years and have elevated their confidence level.
“We’ve really pushed ourselves hard in our training camps. That was almost unprecedented for Japan before. But you can do it if you really want to do it, that’s how I feel now,” Ono said.
Lee makes Wales squad
Wales coach Warren Gatland named prop Samson Lee to his 31-man squad for this year’s Rugby World Cup on Monday, but left out injured flyhalf Gareth Anscombe.
Lee has not played since rupturing his Achilles tendon in March.
New Zealand-born Anscombe was omitted in favour of Matthew Morgan because Gatland said Wales could not afford to carry more injuries.
“There were some tough decisions,” Gatland said. “It’s hard but you have to accept that’s the nature of sport.”
Wales is in Pool A with host England, Australia, Fiji and Uruguay.
Lock Alun Wyn Jones could miss their opening match against the Uruguayans in Cardiff on Sept. 20 because of a knee ligament injury.
“Alun Wyn should only be out for a couple of weeks but you never know with medial stuff,” Gatland said.
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