Japan at the World Cup: What you need to know

As part of SA Rugby magazine’s in-depth World Cup preview, we bring you up to speed with key numbers and facts about the hosts Japan.

Japan will go down in World Cup history for that fateful day in Brighton in 2015 when they beat the Springboks in the opening pool match. The Brave Blossoms lived up to their name, winning three out of four pool games, but still missing out on advancing to the quarter-finals.

It was a result that firmly established Japan as a rising rugby nation. It also can’t be just coincidence that the year after the last World Cup, Japanese team the Sunwolves were added to Super Rugby, and while they have largely underperformed, there have been some surprise results along the way.

In the four years since that famous 2015 World Cup, there has not been much to talk about for Japan. Yet, in the immediate lead-up to the 2019 showpiece, they have enjoyed a great run of form, winning three from three in the Pacific Nations Cup against fellow World Cup nations the USA, Fiji and Tonga.

Biggest weakness:

Traditionally, it has always been the forwards who have let the Japanese down. They rely on speed and skill to move the ball around, but if they’re bullied up front, it suddenly becomes a very dull game for the backs, who are left on defensive duties.

The captain: 

Much like their coach, with his Kiwi heritage and Japanese links, Michael Leitch is the heartbeat of Japan’s team. The 30-year-old flanker, who has earned more than 50 caps for Japan, brings the steadiness and collected composure that an exciting and fast-paced side needs. The New Zealand-born Leitch may be a product of a globalised rugby game, playing for Japan, but he claims to speak Japanese better than English, having moved there when he was 15.

4 – The number of games Japan have won in their entire World Cup history (three of those in 2015).


1987 – Pool stage

1991 – Pool stage

1995 – Pool stage

1999 – Pool stage

2003 – Pool stage

2007 – Pool stage

2011 – Pool stage

2015 – Pool stage

– This is a snippet from October issue of SA Rugby Magazine that previews every team at the World Cup, now on sale!  

Photo: Getty Images

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