Japanese save their best for last in pool stages
Japan Women’s Rugby World Cup Squad 2022
Japan delivered their best performance of this year’s Rugby World Cup in their final pool match but ultimately lost 21-8 to Italy.
They frustrated Italy with their work at the breakdown, winning numerous turnovers, and were willing to attack from anywhere, testing the Italians in defence with the speed of their play, but were ultimately only able to score one try.
It was difficult for either team to build any momentum or fluency with nearly 30 penalties conceded across the 80 minutes, but the Japanese certainly won over fans with their performance at Waitakere Stadium.
Japan were on the back foot for most of the first quarter, barely escaping their half and conceding a try after ten minutes. Yet their defence – and Italy’s ill-discipline – meant they were then able to gain a territorial advantage and had a long spell in their opponent’s half.
When they could generate quick ball, they stretched the Italians with their phase play and Kyoko Hosokawa levelled up the scores after half an hour when cutting a great line to score from close range.
Italy regained the lead with a penalty before the break but it was all square by the 50th minute after Ayasa Otsuka slotted a penalty as the Azzurre continued to infringe.
Another couple of penalties and a late converted try gave Italy the victory – but they had been made to work hard for it by Japan, who bow out of the tournament with an increased supporter base.
Japan team to play Italy – Sunday 23 October
Rinka Matsuda; Hinano Nagura, Mana Furuta, Minori Yamamoto, Komachi Imakugi; Ayasa Otsuka, Megumi Abe; Saki Minami (captain), Kotomi Taniguchi, Sachiko Kato, Yuna Sato, Maki Takano, Kyoko Hosokawa, Iroha Nagata, Seina Saito.
Replacements: Hinata Komaki, Makoto Lavemai, Otoka Yoshimura, Masami Kawamura, Sakurako Korai, Moe Tsukui, Shione Nakayama, Ria Anoku.
USA 30-17 Japan
The only time these two sides have met before was at the 1994 Rugby World Cup and the USA beat Japan by a record 121-0 margin. It was a rather different contest this time, far more competitive, but with ultimately the same result.
When Japan’s intricate passing game clicks it is mightily effective and it clearly impressed the fans in Whangarei, but too often here there were handling errors and they lacked the accuracy to make the most of their chances. A flurry of second-half tries from the USA put the game beyond them, although they had the crowd on their feet with a brilliant try in the final minutes.
It all looked so promising at the start. Japan took an early lead with a clever blindside move from a lineout in the USA 22 that saw scrum-half Megumi Abe dart over in the corner. They had opportunities to increase their advantage but couldn’t take them, so led only 5-3 at the break and then a USA try at the start of the second half meant the Eagles took the lead.
Japan were quick to hit back from a quick tap in the USA 22, spreading the ball wide to Hinano Nagura to cross in the corner.
However, three tries in 15 minutes meant it was the Eagles who had a 17-point lead heading into the final quarter – and that proved too big a margin to overcome.
However, Japan did score the best try of the match in the 77th minute. Winger Komachi Imakugi broke from her own half, weaved around several defenders, skipped out of a last-ditch tackle and scored under the posts.
With their final pool opponents Italy also renowned for keeping the ball in hand it should be a brilliant contest of running rugby in Auckland next weekend.
Japan team to play USA – Saturday 15 October
Rinka Matsuda; Hinano Nagura, Mana Furuta, Minori Yamamoto, Komachi Imakugi; Ayasa Otsuka, Megumi Abe; Saki Minami (captain), Kotomi Taniguchi, Sachiko Kato, Yuna Sato, Maki Takano, Iroha Nagata, Kyoko Hosokawa, Seina Saito.
Replacements: Hinata Komaki, Nijiho Nagata, Wako Kitano, Kie Tamai, Otoka Yoshimura, Moe Tsukui, Ria Anoku, Ayano Nagai.
Japan 5-41 Canada
When Japan are able to string passes together they can stretch teams but that didn’t happen often enough in their opening Rugby World Cup match in Whangarei, which they lost 41-5 to Canada.
They showed glimpses of their potential and when they got their dangerous runners onto the front foot they looked lively, but they were often simply overpowered by the Canadians – and their ill-discipline didn’t help. That allowed Canada to kick for territory and create opportunities with their effective driving maul.
Japan’s brightest spell was arguably in the opening six minutes, when they built pressure in the Canada 22 before Maki Takano touched down following a series of pick-and-goes.
But overall they conceded seven tries and it was a comfortable victory for the Pool B favourites.
Japan team to play Canada – Sunday 9 October
Rinka Matsuda; Hinano Nagura, Mana Furuta, Shione Nakayama, Komachi Imakugi; Ayasa Otsuka, Megumi Abe; Saki Minami (captain), Nijiho Nagata, Sachiko Kato, Yuna Sato, Maki Takano, Seina Saito, Iroha Nagata, Ayano Nagai.
Replacements: Hinata Komaki, Misaki Suzuki, Makoto Lavemai, Kie Tamai, Otoka Yoshimura, Moe Tsukui, Minori Yamamoto, Kyoko Hosokawa.
Japan Women’s Rugby World Cup Squad 2022
Japan’s 32-player squad contains 19 forwards and 13 backs, with prop Saki Minami as captain.
“A goal of mine when I began coaching Japan was to have a challenging selection process for this World Cup,” said coach Lesley McKenzie. “It was my intention to be confronted by difficult choices in most, if not all positions.
“That was about growing our squad, growing the number of players we could pick from and growing them physically in terms of their capacity to play the game at a higher, more physical level. I’m really pleased with where we’re at. It’s not perfect, but I am very excited by the level of performance this team is now capable of.
“We’ve crafted the team with the expectation that everyone puts in all they can towards one group effort. There will be individuals that have breakout performances in the tournament, and I think for us, we will see a breakout in terms of the rest of the world beginning to appreciate the strength of Japanese rugby.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing performances from the team that make the rugby world stand up and take notice of what this team can do.”
Here’s the Japan Women’s Rugby World Cup squad.
Megumi Abe (28 Apr 1998/Arukas Queen Kumagaya/Scrum-half)
Ria Anoku (2 Oct 1996/Mie Pearls/Full-back)
Mana Furuta (16 Nov 1997/Tokyo Sankyu Phoenix/Centre)
Ai Hirayama (7 May 1992/JSDF/Full-back)
Komachi Imakugi (6 Jan 2002/Arukas Queen Kumagaya/Fly-half or wing)
Yuki Ito (24 Oct 1996/Mie Pearls/Wing)
Rinka Matsuda (5 Dec 2001/Nippon Sports Science University/Wing)
Hinano Nagura (22 Mar 1997/Yokogawa/Wing)
Shione Nakayama (18 Jan 1999/Yokogawa/Centre)
Ayasa Otsuka (5 May 1999/RKU/Fly-half)
Ayaka Suzuki (30 Sep 1989/Arukas Queen Kumagaya/Centre)
Moe Tsukui (28 Mar 2000/Yokogawa/Scrum-half)
Minori Yamamoto (9 Dec 1996/Mie Pearls/Centre)
Kyoko Hosokawa (8 Jul 1999/Mie Pearls/Back-row)
Sachiko Kato (19 Feb 2000/Exeter Chiefs/Prop)
Masami Kawamura (13 Jul 1999/RKU/Lock)
Wako Kitano (8 Sep 1999/Mie Pearls/Prop)
Hinata Komaki (9 May 2001/Nippon Sports Science University/Prop)
Sakurako Korai (9 Apr 2003/Nippon Sports Science University/Back-row)
Makoto Lavemai (2 Jul 1997/Yokogawa/Prop)
Saki Minami (18 Nov 1995/Yokogawa/Prop)
Ayano Nagai (14 Oct 1997/Yokohama TKM/Back-row)
Iroha Nagata (21 Dec 1998/Arukas Queen Kumagaya/Back-row)
Nijiho Nagata (6 Dec 2000/International Budo University/Hooker)
Yuka Sadaka (2 Nov 1994/Hirosaki Sakura Ovals/Prop)
Seina Saito (30 May 1992/Mie Pearls/Back-row)
Yuna Sato (11 Sep 1998/Tokyo Sankyu Phoenix/Lock)
Misaki Suzuki (9 Apr 1992/Tokyo Sankyu Phoenix/Back-row)
Maki Takano (17 Aug 1995/Yokogawa/Lock)
Kie Tamai (24 Oct 1992/Mie Pearls/Lock)
Kotomi Taniguchi (10 Apr 1995/Mie Pearls/Hooker)
Otoka Yoshimura (15 May 2001/Arukas Queen Kumagaya/Lock)
Japan Women’s Rugby World Cup Fixtures 2022
(All kick-off times are UK & Ireland time)
Sun 9 Oct, Japan 5-41 Canada
Sat 15 Oct, USA 30-17 Japan
Sun 23 Oct, Japan 8-21 Italy
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