Japan Rugby rankings blossoming under Māori coaches

By Aroha Mane , Kereama Wright

Japanese fans are hopeful their Sakura rugby team will get the same results as the All Blacks did last night.

Tokyo Stadium is completely sold out, the streets are flooded with symbols of the red sun and Jamie Joseph's photo is on the cover of the newspapers. Expectations from the Māori coaches are high.

Japan’s presence in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals has seen their Māori coaches written into Japan’s rugby history books.

“Massive game for Japan rugby. Yeah very proud to be in this situation and it's a great opportunity for us too,” says Assistant coach Tony Brown.

Head coach Jamie Joseph says, “It's is a massive game for everybody involved in the Japanese team. All three coaches are of Maori descent, Tony and Scott Hansen, so it's a very proud day for us. To rep Japan as coaches but also our people back home.”

For four years Joseph (Ngāti Maniapoto, Rangitane, Ngā Rarua), Brown (Ngāi Tahu) and Hansen have coached this side.

“Jamie did bring a little bit of the Māori culture into this team," says Japan’s captain Michael Leitch.

"The first test match of the World Cup he gave everyone a necklace in the shape of a patu and he explained the meaning behind it and what it means and also presented the team with a patu that we put in front of a little shrine that we have in the team,” he says.

Fondly known as Sakura, the Japan team stunned the world with a win over Ireland, which leads to three more wins. Following the do or die win over Scotland last week they now have their sights on former world champions, South Africa.

“The opportunity in front of us is just exciting and I know the players are ready and the coaching team, we've hopefully got the team as well prepared as we can. And we go out and play our game,” says Brown.

When quizzed about Japan's historic world cup win over the Bokke in 2015, Joseph drew no comparisons, “We won't be drawing on that at all. In fact, I've been trying to forget about it for the last four years. We're a different team.

Joseph says he's been focused on the Springboks suspected strategy of forwarding domination.  

“They've picked six extra forwards on the bench, it shows a clear sign that they physically they are going to approach the match using their big forwards and be very physical. What’s not so clear is what we're gonna do and that's what I'm looking forward to.”

The history books have already been written, something they hope to repeat tonight.