It remains to be seen whether Japan can capitalise and go through to the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup for the first time, but it actually doesn’t matter.
Rugby’s global showpiece has quickly become the Minnows Cup after Japan and Georgia stole the march on the tournament’s big guns with historic upsets.
It’s not inconceivable that both teams lose their remaining pool matches, but success is relative.
With the global tournament heading to Japan in 2019, the feats of coach Eddie Jones’ men against South Africa will have an immeasurable effect on the sport in Asia.
The next generation of Fumiaki Tanaka’s are practising their passes right now. An action figure of the plucky halfback would be fitting.
The timing of Japan’s rising sun could not be more perfect as a country with 130 million people tries desperately to get its new Super Rugby franchise off the ground.
Rugby World Cup puts the sport, and the minnows, in front of a massive audience.
It is a chance every four years to showcase the game and Japan and Georgia have seized the moment.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said earlier this week that the entry of an Argentinian team to Super Rugby next year was more significant than their four years in the Rugby Championship.
With most of the Pumas signed up to the Buenos Aires-based side, Hansen saw the national side becoming more cohesive in coming seasons than is possible now with their players scattered across the globe.
The same could apply to Japan in coming years. If only that could be said for the Pacific Islands, but here’s hoping that door is not closed forever.
Cynics will put Japan’s success down to the influence of six Kiwis in the squad that beat the Springboks. That’s only half the story.
Former Japan and Italy coach John Kirwan was a picture of pride the following day as he walked into Wembley to watch the All Blacks play Argentina.
He understood the years of coaching and development that have gone into upskilling Japanese players and cherished some evidence it had all been worthwhile. And in the same breath he lamented that Italy had not performed better against France in front of a massive television audience.
Rugby union has been professional for less than 30 years, but during that time intellectual knowledge has spread its wings far and wide.
New Zealand has been perhaps the greatest exporter of the increasingly valuable commodity, providing seven of the 20 head coaches at the World Cup.
Milton Haig coaches a largely amateur Georgian team, but has quickly made an impact in a country where rugby has become one of the most popular team sports. Their win over Tonga has seen them rise to No 13 on the World Rugby rankings and didn’t entirely surprise those who follow the lower tiers of international rugby. Two years ago the Lelos stunned Samoa 16-15 in Tbilisi.
In the United States, rugby is the fastest-growing team sport and as sevens steps onto the Olympic stage, the game is spreading its tentacles into a new pool of athletic talent.
The sport’s prospects have never been more exciting. Imagine a Rugby World Cup with 10 to 12 legitimate contenders.
Imagine the All Blacks playing a test in Tbilisi or Montevideo. It sounds far-fetched but so did Tokyo and Chicago not so long ago.
Let’s not all start pretending rugby union has caught up with the beautiful game over one weekend in England and Wales.
Japan beating the Springboks may not have any real bearing on the makeup of the quarter-finals, but let’s celebrate progress.
“I think Japan have opened the eyes of world rugby and for that matter people who are just watching for the first time and think, ‘wow, here’s one of the wee guys stepping up and doing a great job’,” Hansen said.
“What it does for the Uruguay’s and the Namibia’s and so forth, those other lower teams, is give them a thought process or change of mindset that they can compete.” – [stuff.co.nz]