Bloemfontein to Brighton: 5 defining moments in Japanese rugby history

After marking a debut with a narrow defeat by the United States, there was a taste of things to come when Japan shipped 60 points to England.

Japan's rugby team during a training session. Picture: @JRFURugby/Twitter.

TOKYO - With one year to go before the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, we take a look at five defining moments in Japanese rugby history:


Japan have appeared at every World Cup since the tournament began in 1987 but after marking their debut with a narrow 21-18 defeat by the United States, there was a taste of things to come when they shipped 60 points to England.

Fragile egos were given a timely boost at the next World Cup in 1991 when Japan thumped lowly Zimbabwe 52-8, but it proved a false dawn. Things would get worse for the Asian champions four years later - much, much worse.


It was a case of third time unlucky for Japan at the World Cup in 1995 when they conceded a half-century of points against both Wales and Ireland before running into the mighty All Blacks in Bloemfontein.

With the top rugby nations preparing to turn professional, New Zealand pulverised Japan 145-17 as they ran in an eye-popping 21 tries in a record victory to underline the gulf in class. Future coach Eddie Jones slammed that team as a “joke” - a tag the Australian would himself tear up 20 years later.


Already confirmed as future World Cup hosts, Japan coach John Kirwan was ordered to go and win two matches at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. But the Brave Blossoms choked after being smashed 83-7 by the host nation, losing to Tonga and only managing a draw against Canada.

It marked the end of Kirwan’s bold experiment to bring a more fluent, attacking style to Japan, but arguably laid the foundation for Jones to build on after he replaced the All Black great the following year.


Despite going into the 2015 World Cup struggling for form, Japan coach Jones continued to tell anyone who would listen that the perennial whipping boys could reach the quarter-finals and a shock 34-32 victory over two-time champions South Africa in their opening game truly silenced his critics.

It also shook world rugby to its core and the Brave Blossoms went on to record further wins over Samoa and the United States, narrowly missing out on a place in the knockout stages but underlining the progress the team had made under Jones, who turned them into a top-10 side.


Jones was always going to be a tough act to follow and former All Black Jamie Joseph told AFP his predecessor had left nothing in the way of notes or data for him to work from when he took up the job in 2016.

But after Joseph also took on the role of coaching the Tokyo-based Sunwolves, who had suffered a nightmare first two seasons in Super Rugby, the results were instant - Japan drew 23-23 with France in Paris last November in a game they should have won, before beating both Italy and Georgia this summer.