Japan coach Jamie Joseph promised the hosts would “give 150 percent” to hit their target of reaching the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals after naming his 31-man squad on Thursday.
The Brave Blossoms will be at full strength when they face Russia in the tournament’s curtain-raiser in Tokyo on September 20 after talismanic captain Michael Leitch returned from injury at the recent Pacific Nations Cup.
“The team has set a goal of making the top eight for the first time in the history of Japanese rugby,” Joseph told reporters.
“The staff and players will give 150 percent – we’re under no illusions how difficult that is but it’s definitely our goal. The moment of truth will be upon us shortly.”
“Our game is based around speed, skill and structure,” added the former All Black, whose team limbers up for the World Cup with a “must-perform” Test against two-time champions South Africa next week.
“But the key difference this year is we are fit enough now to play that game. We’re training at a level of intensity that’s 25 percent higher than our matches — I think that’s our key weapon.”
Japan famously won three games at the 2015 World Cup under Eddie Jones, including an astonishing 34-32 victory over the Springboks.
Currently ranked ninth in the world after capturing their third Pacific Nations title, the Japanese also take on Ireland, Scotland and Samoa in Pool A as they target a place in the knockout stage for the first time.
They will be boosted by their success at the Pacific Nations, where they beat Fiji (34-21), Tonga (41-7) and the United States (34-20).
Finn Russell has told his Scotland team-mates not to let stage fright wreck their final World Cup audition on Saturday.
Gregor Townsend’s squad have one final chance to shine against Georgia in Tbilisi before the head coach announces the 31 players he will be taking to Japan.
Racing 92 playmaker Russell is normally the coolest performer in the Dark Blues camp but he has extra reason to be calm in the lead-up to Townsend’s squad unveiling at Linlithgow Palace next Tuesday given his role as the Scottish attack’s undisputed leading man.
The stand-off’s place is all but guaranteed but he is aware some of his colleagues still have some convincing to do in order to book their seat on the plane to the Far East.
But he urged the rest of Townsend’s hopefuls to stay relaxed when their moment under the Dinamo Arena spotlight comes as he admitted fluffed lines could be costly.
Russell said: “You’ve got to look forward to these games. If you’re going to get tense then you might not perform as well.
“I think you’ve got to go into it full on, wanting to play, wanting to perform and wanting to do your best.
“I know there might be pressure on players to perform and get a win away from home. But if you over-think it and worry, ‘If we don’t play well or if we lose then we might not get on the flight’ then the chances are you won’t play well because you’ll be making it too complicated rather than sticking to what you know and trust. It’s better if you back yourself.”
The only thing now likely to prevent Russell from facing Ireland in the Scots’ Group A opener at the International Stadium in Yokohama on September 22 is injury.
Yet with a second clash with the powerhouse Georgians to come at Murrayfield six days after Saturday’s Tbilisi Test, he is aware there are still a couple of hurdles to overcome.
The pitfalls were made clear this week when Exeter lock Sam Skinner was ruled out of the tournament as a result of the hamstring injury he sustained against France last weekend.
But Russell lived up to his laid-back reputation as he shrugged off the suggestion the next couple of games were all about staying out of trouble.
He said: “You can’t go out thinking about not getting injured. It’s a contact sport and injuries are going to happen. That’s the way it is.
“Fraser Brown got injured towards the end of last season and Sam’s been injured now. Personally, I don’t think about that and neither will many of the boys.
“If you have a niggle, you might be a bit more cautious about it but if you’re going into a game you can’t be thinking, ‘What if I try to tackle a guy and this happens or if I jump to catch a ball and that happens?’ you’ll probably end up in bad positions because you’re being cautious trying to get out the way of it.”
Scotland recovered from their five-trying pasting in Nice to beat Les Bleus 17-14 in Edinburgh last Saturday.
They will now look to improve on a miserable away record that has produced just three wins from their last 11 matches on the road but Russell is wary of the Lelos.
He said: “Georgia will be tough. They are getting better every year. There are a couple of Georgian players who play with me at Racing (Guram Gogichashvili and Vasil Kakovin), so it will be fun for me going up against them.
“Knowing the quality those guys bring to Racing shows their national team are getting better and they are getting more and more depth. We’ll have to be at our best to fly out there and win.”
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Joe Schmidt has lamented “dishevelled” Ireland’s record 57-15 loss to England, conceding his squad must lick their wounds and fast.
Ireland leaked eight tries en route to their heaviest-ever loss to England, with Eddie Jones’ men running rampant in west London.
Head coach Schmidt refused to brand Ireland’s alarming loss a repeat of the bullying they admitted England dished out in the 32-20 defeat to Schmidt’s men in the Six Nations in February.
But the cowed Ireland boss conceded his squad must carry out some rapid soul searching to be ready to face Warren Gatland’s snarling Wales in Cardiff next weekend.
Asked if Ireland’s confidence had been dented by the magnitude and manner of their loss, Schmidt said: “I don’t think so. But inevitably it hurts right now. That’s a big score to offer up.
“There are some elements of the process that we know really weren’t good enough; to miss 34 tackles, to be sluggish in getting ourselves organised as we were.
“I knew we’d be heavy-legged and I knew we wouldn’t be perfect today, because we had had a big workload.
“Cardiff will be a bit of a cauldron to go to, but that will be a big challenge for these players.
“It was a litany of disappointing aspects and uncharacteristic inaccuracy from us today, to be honest, that contributed to our own downfall, and we looked dishevelled.
“We didn’t get our set-piece going, didn’t really scavenge as well as we would have liked. We fell off 34 tackles, 21 in the first half.
“We were underdone, a bit heavy-legged.
“It doesn’t have to be too much of a margin between two teams for one to be a bit sluggish and the other to be on the top of their game. I know we can get better than that, I know we have to.
“The players will take responsibility to do everything they can to turn it around next week and build from that.
“Because what really matters is in four weeks’ time, for the World Cup opener against Scotland.
“You do get some disproportionate scores in World Cup warm-up matches.
“But we still have to accept we weren’t nearly good enough today and we’ve got to be a lot better the next time out.”
Joe Cokanasiga scored twice, with Elliot Daly, Manu Tuilagi, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Tom Curry and Luke Cowan-Dickie all also crossing.
Jordan Larmour and Bundee Aki scored for Ireland, but the visitors were nearing full-strength and still received a hiding.
Refusing to brand Ireland’s physical besting another bullying experience, Schmidt continued: “Well certainly they’ve got some fantastic athletes, Joe Cokanasiga versus Jordan Larmour, a good big man versus a good little man, so some of that is going to happen.
“Manu Tuilagi, Billy Vunipola, and I thought Itoje had some very good lines.
“But again, we’ve got to be way better than that, to make sure that we can close those guys down.
“I think it was on the back of a stream of possession, we can’t just afford to keep giving them access like that or we will start losing collisions.”
Conor Murray suffered a head injury scare, but Schmidt confirmed the Munster scrum-half passed an assessment.
Schmidt also hopes Cian Healy can shake off an ankle knock in time to contest World Cup selection.
Schmidt added: “Cian sprained his ankle, that’s clear from the X-ray, but he walked from the pitch so we’re hopeful that he’ll be okay.”