Japan's Brave Blossoms warm-up for World Cup

The women's Japanese football team surprised the world in Germany but can men's rugby team do the same in New Zealand.

    Kiwi John Kirwan used to coach Italy before taking charge of Japan [GALLO/GETTY] 

    Former All Black and current Japan coach says he has brought his team to Europe to help in their long-term development with future World Cups in mind.

    The Brave Blossoms, as the Japanese rugby team have come to be known due to the cherry blossom emblem on their shirts, have made the long trip to Italy to gain some valuable experience.

    Next week they return to Tokyo to face the USA before heading off to New Zealand for the World Cup.

    However, this trip is more about building for the long term future than simply trying to get in some hard practice before the big competition kicks off.

    "We have short-term goals and long-term goals. The long-term goal is to make the top eight in (the World Cup in) 2015 and then make our own final in 2019 (when the tournament will be held in Japan)," said Kirwan.

    "As of 2012 we'll start playing European sides in test matches. The scrum and set pieces are very different to how we play in the southern hemisphere.

    "It's about coming up to play against a very good scrum and a very good Italy side so we can prepare for the first two sides we play in the World Cup, France and New Zealand.

    "We want to learn how to scrum against a different type of scrum and cope with the physicality at the break down.

    "Our medium-term goal is to go from 12th to eighth (in the world rankings) so we must play Italy and Scotland and teams like that."

    Before taking over Japan, Kirwan also coached Italy and recently has been hired as an expert analyst on Italian television during Italy games.

           Japan celebrate beating Hong Kong in Asian 5 Nations match and qualifying for World Cup [GETTY] 

    It has given Kirwan a unique insight into Saturday's opponents and he says that even whilst working for the TV company, he always kept his coaching cap on.

    "As a coach more so than a broadcaster I watched five or six of our opponents' games," he said.

    "I watched all of their Six Nations matches and November tests and I've presented my findings to the (Japanese) team just as I would for any other team.

    "Nothing changes. I've got to prepare the team for their opponents, look at their strengths and weaknesses.

    The Japanese team is not devoid of controversy due to the number of foreign players representing the land of the rising sun.

    But although many of the players are not ethnic Japanese, Kirwan believes this is all part of a necessary process in improving the team for the future.

    "We have nine foreign players. The Tongans (Sione Vatuvei and Ryukoliniasi Holani) and (Fijian) Leachy (Michael Leach) went there at nine (years old) to study.

    "I've always said we must use foreigners to improve our results and then when we arrive towards 2019, the Federation needs to work very hard to always get more Japanese players in the team.

    "Rugby is a world sport, we accept everyone. It's not political."



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