Whether or not the Brave Blossoms continue to defy the odds in this Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final, the success of Jamie Joseph’s side on home soil looks set to open plenty of doors at world rugby’s top table.
Japan’s on-field success at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in going unbeaten through their Pool A campaign, including those famous victory over Ireland, then ranked second in the world, in Shizuoka on September 28, and Scotland last Sunday in Yokohama, has captivated not just the host nation but rugby supporters around the world.
And that includes World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, which has been stunned by the huge numbers being racked up in terms of television viewers and social media engagements as well as the good old-fashioned barometer of jersey sales.
Proclaiming the current World Cup as “a very special tournament indeed”, World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper pointed to more than 1.8 million tickets sold, a 99% take-up, up on 2015 in England and Wales, 200,000 replica shirts sold, and viewing figures for Japan versus Scotland “likely to go through 50 million, which crashes through the previous best”.
It is the most talked about Rugby World Cup in social media engagements, 1.8 million downloads of the official app, 650 million video views, which is more than the entire tournament did in 2015 and we will go well beyond Olympic levels in Rio.
A big factor in that is undoubtedly Japan’s on-field success and as they prepared for Sunday’s last-eight clash with South Africa at Tokyo Stadium, World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont was fielding questions about whether or not the Brave Blossoms should now be recognised as a Tier 1 nation.
That would be some return on his organisation’s investment in the game here since Japan was awarded the 2019 tournament 10 years ago. It almost paid off four years ago in 2015 when they opened their pool campaign with a victory over the Springboks in Brighton and went on to win three out of four games only to fail to qualify for the knockout stages.
The glass ceiling has now been broken in stunning fashion and Beaumont said:
"If you look at the World Rugby San Francisco agreement, two years ago we have an excess of more than 30% of matches between Tier 2 and Tier 1 teams.
“Let's all remember the reason they are called Tier 1 and Tier 2 is not because of performance, it’s a historical thing because they (Tier 1) play their major tournaments on an annual basis - the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship.
Currently, the Japanese ranking is seven and when you have beaten the team that is two (Ireland) you sit up and take notice.
"There has been unparalleled emotion around the country which certainly inspired the team. Japan is a proud nation, desperate to play the game (last Sunday, post-Typhoon Hagibis) and prove they are worthy of sitting at the top table.
“They’re currently seeded seventh and what we are trying to do is look at all our tournaments, all our competitions so that we can get more Tier 1 fixtures for Japan.”
Beaumont added that Japan’s new status as box-office gold would also get the unions of those Tier 1 teams across the globe champing at the bit to facilitate those fixtures.
"If I was the treasurer of any country you would want Japan to come and play you because you know they are going to attract a lot of spectators to watch a successful team with an incredible style of rugby which relies on pace and precision.
They’ve almost changed the face of how rugby should be played.