All Blacks coach Steve Hansen paid tribute Monday to an “awesome” Japan performance at the Rugby World Cup and said even the mighty New Zealand was glad to avoid the tournament host in the quarterfinals.
Japan has upset the form book and 50/1 bookmakers’ odds by winning all three group matches, including against Scotland and Ireland, to top their pool and play South Africa in the last eight.
“People have said ‘Who do you want to play?’ Well, there’s an in-form team so I’m quite happy they are on the other side of the draw,” said Hansen.
New Zealand topped Pool B and will play its quarterfinal against Ireland, which was stunned by the Brave Blossoms in their group match.
Describing Japan’s 28-21 win against Scotland on Sunday as “awesome,” Hansen said the Brave Blossoms now belonged at World Rugby’s top table — the sport’s so-called Tier One teams.
“Without a doubt, they would have to be considered like they are playing and performing like a Tier One nation,” said Hansen.
“They are now in the top eight in the world on performance. They are playing quality rugby so I think Japan should be very, very proud,” he added.
Japan has risen to seventh in the world rankings on the back of its World Cup form, above Six Nations sides France, Scotland and Italy, and Rugby Championship team Argentina.
All Black flanker Sam Cane said the Japan-Scotland match had packed out the TV room in the New Zealand camp, with about three quarters of the squad watching it together and the rest viewing it in their rooms.
“Pretty impressive to be honest. First half was really impressive. The speed the Japanese played at. The skill level. They are the real deal,” he said.
Centre Anton Lienert-Brown said Japan had been “outstanding” and “awesome” and highlighted its defensive effort as Scotland hit it with wave after wave of attacks in the second half.
“To see them holding out defensively as well was very impressive,” said Lienert-Brown.
Hansen said Japan’s run was a “marvelous thing” for the Rugby World Cup and had boosted the sport in the country, the first Asian nation to host the tournament.
He also said the win had lifted the country after a “pretty horrific weekend” being battered by Typhoon Hagibis, which has claimed at least 35 lives.