Japan coach John Kirwan says that Saturday’s performance against France is proof that they are an emerging force in world rugby as they gear to host the 2019 World Cup.
The eventual 47-21 result glossed over what was shaping as a horror show for Les Bleus with three late tries inflating the final winning margin for the twice World Cup finalists.
The Asian champions trailed by just four points well into the final quarter of the lively Pool A game before France marshalled enough of their experience to get them across the line at the end.
France looked there for the taking with memories of their deflating last 12 months where they slumped to a record 59-16 defeat at home to Australia in November and a first-ever loss to Italy in the Six Nations.
Former All Balck Kirwan wanted the pressure of the last 12 months to weigh on the French as the Brave Blossoms played out of their skins to be just a try away from delivering the coup de grace.
“We have studied France pretty intensively,” said Kirwan.
“We felt there would be a window in the second half if we could stay in touch and put them pressure where they might have some memories of the Six Nations (defeat to Italy) and maybe Argentina (two defeats) at the last World Cup.”
Kirwan paid credit to France getting out of the huge hole they dug for themselves.
“World Cups are very different for everyone. This is a special tournament and it creates special types of pressure,” he said.
“To France’s credit we had them under the pump, they were making uncharacteristic errors and unfortunately we couldn’t come away with that try we needed to go ahead.
“We planned for it, but we didn’t quite take it away.”
Kirwan has been speaking this week about the need for Japan to prove they are an emerging force in the world game.
“It was important for us to play well and show the world that we are a very competent football team, that we could phases together and we could attack and defend for long periods of time,” he said.
“We’ve been working very hard to come to this World Cup and it was really pleasing that we stayed under the radar and tonight’s about exploding on to the scene and making sure we play to our level.
“That will help us tonight. We’ll take confidence out of that, we’ll study the game tonight and we will be disappointed tomorrow because there were times when we could have done a lot more.
“If you think about the two tries we gave France and then some missed opportunities and we look at this game as if we are equals.”
Kirwan said the courage of his Brave Blossoms shone through and was warmly received by the capacity 28,569 crowd at North Harbour.
“The crowd really warmed to the way the Japanese played because we played with courage,” he said.
“We spoke about it before we played tonight. We talked about especially the (March 11) tsunami disaster and that the result wouldn’t matter because people sitting in their living rooms in Japan and watching us would understand what courage is.
“We needed to show that courage by continuing to play, continuing to get up and tackle and the people warmed to us because they saw that courage on the field.
‘We played evenly with France for 70 minutes of the game, so the New Zealand crowd appreciated that.”