Can Japan Join International Elites?

Hosts, Japan are an intriguing prospect at this World Cup. Placed in a group with Celtic pair Ireland and Scotland, a woefully underpowered Samoa and likely whipping boys, Russia.

Japan made memories way back in 2015 with their incredible win over South Africa in Brighton a day everyone remembers. Michael Leitch and Ayumu Goromaru the heroes of the day and Leitch still a key man for the Brave Blossoms.

Can Japan finally make the knockout stages of a World Cup?

They certainly stand a chance, whilst Ireland a clear frontrunners even after being thrashed by England in record breaking fashion. They have the stardust of Johnny Sexton, the insatiable appetite for the contest of Peter O’Mahony and last but certainly not least the brilliant rugby mind of Joe Schmidt. They are a formidable unit and are odds on to top their group.

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Credit: Instagram (@japan_rugby)

Scotland are the other main contenders in the pool, could Japan beat Scotland? It’s a curious one. Scotland have the ability to be brilliant and free flowing with their plethora of talented backs such as Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell but they also have a tendency to crumble at times. They do not have the mental strength that comes from consistent results.

Japan face Scotland on 13th October in their final group match, Japan will have the upper hand in this game for two reasons, firstly Japan being hosts are at home in Yokohama and Scotland have not had their best games previously on their travels, secondly the turnarounds for the two teams Scotland will have faced a very physical battle with Samoa just four days previous to this fixture, Japan will also have played Samoa but will have had twice the time to recuperate and prepare.

Japan can target this game against Scotland as the one to win and progress to the knockout stages. If they do make the quarter-finals they will most likely face either current holders, New Zealand or a vastly improved South Africa.

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Credit: Instagram (@japan_rugby)

South Africa would be the favoured clash, following the off field incidents the Springboks may not be quite as settled as they were a few weeks ago plus there will be the added emotion of 2015, the spirit of Brighton.

If Japan can beat Scotland then anything is possible, this game is more than likely the clash to decide which team progresses to the quarter-finals along with Ireland, unless Scotland or Japan can topple the men in green. Get the 13th October in your diaries early it will be one hell of a game.

Potential Japan XV for 1st World Cup Game

1 Keita Inagaki 2 Shota Horie 3 Asaeli Ai Valu 4 Wimpie van der Walt 5 Luke Thompson 6 Michael Leitch (Captain) 7 Lappies Labuschagne 8 Amanaki Mafi

9 Fumiaki Tanaka 10 Yu Tamura 11 Kenki Fukuoka 12 Ryoto Nakamura 13 Timothy Lafaele 14 Kotaro Matsushima 15 Ryohei Yamanaka

State of the Nation: New Zealand (continued)

Part two analysing the All Blacks and picking our squad just six months out from the 2019 World Cup.

You can find part one and our forwards here.

At half back New Zealand are strong and there are two scrum-halves that would make most international teams. Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara both travel. Steve Hansen is likely to take a third scrum-half as part of his initial squad.

There are many options Augustine Pulu, Mitchell Drummond and Brad Weber all capped by New Zealand but Hansen will likely stick with the form scrum-half of last season Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, he adds some excitement to the settled pair of Smith and Perenara.

Scrum-Halves: TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Chiefs)

At fly-half there is no debate Beauden Barrett is first choice and will remain first choice. Behind him again a really easy choice after last season. Richie Mo’unga is a key part of the Crusaders success, he kicks well out of hand and is a good attacking player.

Fly-Halves: Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders)

One are of considerable depth for New Zealand is centre especially with the recent return of World Cup winner Ma’a Nonu.

New Zealand’s Mr Consistent Ryan Crotty is a class act and goes about his job quietly yet efficiently and must be a part of Hansen’s squad. Alongside him his Crusaders partner in crime Jack Goodhue has the makings of a really good player. He’s in great form, he’s fast and got some real power, he offers New Zealand something really quite special in the midfield.

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Credit: David Molloy photography via Flickr

Behind the Crusaders duo there are so many options Matt Proctor is a very good player but will probably miss out, Vince Aso is another player that is on the peripheries of the picture.

One man very much front and centre is Sonny Bill Williams, can be a bit of a marmite player but certainly talented. It is shown by previous winning sides experience is key the proven big game performances and experience of the hulking centre make him an integral part of our squad.

We had trouble picking our fourth and final centre between powerful runner Ngani Laumpae and the skilful ball player Anton Lienert-Brown. The way Laumape has played over the past few seasons and the explosive presence he can offer make him our final pick.

Centres: Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue (both Crusaders), Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes), Sonny Bill Williams (Blues)

These leaves five spaces in the back three to complete our 31-man squad.

Tries are going to be important in Japan especially with bonus points on offer in the group stage the same as in 2015. New Zealand have arguably the best wing in the world in Rieko Ioane, he’s a dangerous finisher with pace to burn.

It’s again a really competitive position, with him there is Ben Smith, a talented fullback and his ability to play wing is an added bonus. Talking of versatility New Zealand are going to need a player that can cover ten should the worst happen and Barrett get injured, after all look at the 2011 World Cup. Damian MacKenzie is that man. Not only can he cover fly-half but he’s also the best counterattacking player around.

To compliment Ioane, there is a wealth of options but very much leading the charge is Waisake Naholo, the winger is another speed merchant but Naholo really excels in his evasion, he has a low centre of gravity and a powerful leg drive.

Jordie Barrett is just outstandingly brilliant, creative, quick, dangerous. We have left him out, we have gone for a relative bolter in the shape of Ben Lam. He may not be as prolific as he was last time out but is still a danger man.

Back Three: Rieko Ioane (Blues), Ben Lam (Hurricanes), Damian MacKenzie (Chiefs), Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith (both Highlanders)

There we have it our 31-man squad for New Zealand, next up Wales check that out later this week. Who would you pick if you were Steve Hansen hit us up in the comments section!

Six Nations Will be Open Affair

Ireland are clearly the frontrunners heading into the Six Nations as they capped a successful 2018 by beating the All Blacks following their 2-1 tour win in Australia over the summer.

Guided by fly-half Johnny Sexton they have the firepower in the forwards with Tadhg Furlong leading the charge, then they have the lethal finishing ability of Jacob Stockdale out wide.

It will be no walk in the park though, Wales look like a different team to the boring, one dimensional Welsh team we have come to associate with two time Lions boss, Warren Gatland.

Gareth Anscombe has changed the game, his attacking ability makes the talented Wales backline tick.

Ireland and England both face the trip to Cardiff’s cauldron like arena and following an unbeaten autumn Wales will fancy their chances.

England look rejuvenated their excellent win over Australia and bullish victory over South Africa showed that Eddie Jones’ side still have that hard edge. They also ran the mighty New Zealand very close.

Not to mention they did all this without frontline stars like Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Nathan Hughes, Joe Launchbury and Dan Cole.

England do arguably face the toughest task in terms of fixtures with both the Ireland and Wales ties away from the fortress of Twickenham. They are also set to bear the burden of injury again with Bath trio Sam Underhill, Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph unlikely to play any part in the competition.

Scotland are still strong, France look to have some rhythm back and Italy seem to have found an identity but it’s unlikely that they’ll challenge the other three this year.

The likelihood of a Grand Slam is low as it will be difficult for Ireland to win in Cardiff, England won’t fancy their chances in Dublin and last time Wales beat England was in the 2015 World Cup.

The countdown to the World Cup is on and with September approaching, this Six Nations is crucial step towards Tokyo and the William Webb Ellis Trophy.