The press section of the Epoca Stadium in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan last Saturday: Michael Leitch, 1.89 meters tall, 105 pounds, faces dozens of journalists, a box of recorders in front of his chest. The captain of the Japanese national rugby team has come in to help the journalists with their quotes. The interest after the victory of his team against Ireland at the home World Cup simply goes beyond the scope.
The scene is an example of the excitement rugby is causing in Japan. And she stands for a team that is down-to-earth and whose success has been meticulously planned in recent years.
大勢 の 記者 で ご っ た 返 す ミ ッ ク ス ゾ ー ン. 大会 組織 委員会 が 声 を 拾 え な い 記者 の た め に 用意 し て い る レ コ ー ダ ー 置 き の 空 き 箱 を, 自 ら 持 っ て 取材 を 受 け る # リ ー チ マ イ ケ ル 主将. こ う し た 振 る 舞 い が, 私 の よ う#OneTeam #BRAVE を 届 け よ う @g_leitch pic.twitter.com/zskWQD3pOi. 阿 取材 者 心 す す す (- ス ポ チ 201 201 2019 (@sponichi_r) September 28, 2019
Leitch is one of a total of 16 non-Japanese-born players in the national team. He grew up in New Zealand and moved to Tokyo to study. In 2013, he became a Japanese citizen. He has something ahead of some teammates. For example, his co-captain Pieter Labuschagné, who only joined the Japanese league in 2016 and is now one of the most important players in the "cherry blossoms".
In rugby, players are allowed to debut for the respective national team after three years of continuous play in one country.
The success is planned
The rugby structures have been reformed in Japan since the turn of the millennium in order to make the country competitive again. In 2004, the so-called Top League emerged from the formerly weak domestic league. League teams include Japanese corporations like Honda or Panasonic hiring players. In addition to five years ago, the Sunwolves were founded: a selection of the Japanese league, which competes in the international league Super Rugby against the best teams in the southern hemisphere.
7 picturesRugby World Cup: Japanese sensation
Japan has become attractive to international players. More than twelve of them have made it to the national team.
The success of the Japanese team at this World Cup ensures great euphoria in the country. After beating Ireland, videos were shared by celebrating Japanese fans on social media. Pictures that would only be in football in Germany.
Rugby has a long tradition in Japan: In 1899, two professors from Keio University in Tokyo, who had previously studied in Cambridge, have introduced their students to the game. Before, rugby was played in Japan, but until then the sport was reserved for the British. This is reported by a historian of the newspaper Japan Times.
Rugby is national sport in Japan. Around 109,000 active players are registered with the Japanese Federation - more than in Wales, Italy or even Ireland.
Outsider, but not without a chance
But the big successes did not happen in the past. Although Japan has been fully qualified since the World Cup introduction in 1987, it only scored one victory in 2015 and never got beyond the group stage. In 1995, the "Cherry Blossoms" even set a record 17.55 against New Zealand for the highest defeat in World Cup history, which is still valid today.
Due to the system changes in the country Japan is at least since the World Cup four years ago, although still outsiders, but no longer has no chance. The team won three games, including sensational against South Africa. By extra points, which Scotland and South Africa at that time achieved by a high number of attempts, Japan failed as the first team in the history with three wins yet on the way.
Tsuyoshi Ueda / AP
The Japanese fans are thrilled by their team
In August, Japan won the Pacific Nations Cup by beating Fiji, Tonga and the United States. In the world rankings the "cherry blossoms" are in the top eight for the first time.
Now the Japanese rugby is facing the biggest success in history, the first time in the World Cup quarter-finals. A win against outsider Samoa on Saturday (12:15 pm, TV: ProSieben Maxx) would be the next step.