Whether or not Japan, 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, should open doors at world rugby’s top table.
Japan were unbeaten in their Pool A campaign, including those famous victories over Ireland (then ranked second in the world), in Shizuoka on September 28, and Scotland, last Sunday in Yokohama.
They have captivated not just their own fans, but rugby supporters around the world.
And that includes World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, which has been stunned by the huge numbers of television viewers and social media engagements, as well as jersey sales.
Proclaiming the current World Cup “a very special tournament indeed,” World Rugby chief executive, Brett Gosper, pointed to more than 1.8m tickets sold, a 99% take-up (more than in England/Wales at the 2015 World Cup), 200,000 replica shirts sold, and viewing figures for Japan versus Scotland “likely to go through 50m, which crashes through the previous best.”
“It is the most-talked-about Rugby World Cup in social media engagements, 1.8m downloads of the official app, 650m 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 Japan’s on-field success.
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 the 2015 World Cup, 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,” Beaumont said.
“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 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.”