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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Form guide: Japan
Yuya Saito of Japan on the charge against Korea
Japan over-ran Korea in qualifying for the World Cup
Japan's build-up to the World Cup has been of the low-key variety.

The country's new 'Top League' competition is attracting a host of foreign stars including Australia's Toutai Kefu and New Zealand's Royce Willis.

However, the national team are unable to attract top-level competition.

The most common names on the fixture list are Chinese Taipei and Korea, with games this year against the United States, Russia, Korea and second-string sides from Australia and England.

The step up in class at the World Cup when they meet, most notably, France and Scotland, will come as a shock.

Indeed, since the last World Cup, in 30 outings the most testing encounters have been against Wales (twice) and Ireland.

An aggregate scoreline of 49-195 in those matches highlights the gulf in class, and heavy defeats against Samoa and Canada have also been recorded in that time.

But there are positives to glean from the harsh reality.

FORM IN 2003
17 May: USA 69-27 Japan
25 May: Japan 34-43 Russia
5 June: Japan 5-63 Australia A
8 June: Japan 15-66 Aus A
15 June: Japan 86-3 Korea

Victory over Canada in the third-place play-off in the 2001 Pacific Rim Championship gave more than a hint of the ability on hand to the selectors.

Chinese Taipei and Korea are frequent foes, not least due to the home and away legs played in qualifying for the World Cup.

Japan qualified in style, racking up a record score against Chinese Taipei and an aggregate of 420 points in the four games.

Their programme of development since the last World Cup bore fruit with those performances.

And big results continued to come in their build-up to the World Cup with comfortable victories over Sri Lanka and the Arabian Gulf.

The run continued with an early acclimatisation in Australia where they beat Queensland 'A' before losing the return and two more outings.

But since then, they have struggled to make any real impact.

They were overwhelmed 69-27 by the United States in their opening Super Powers Cup match.

Try: Torai
Penalty: Penaruti
Tackle: Takkuru
Come on ref: Tanomuyo, shinpan
Cauliflower ears: Gyoza mimi

The game had initially been a very tight affair, with the sides going into the break level at 17-17 as tries from Daisuke Ohata and Soshi Fuchigami gave Japanese fans in San Francisco something to cheer.

But with the floodlights on Japan capitulated, letting in eight tries in the remaining 40 minutes.

The Japanese fared much better against Russia at the end of May but still came off second best having again held their rivals close throughout the first-half.

But again concentration lapsed and a 34-43 loss flattered Japan, who picked up face-saving tries deep into the game's latter stages.

Japan made amends against far lowlier opposition in June with a confidence-restoring 86-3 win over Korea, but they struggled against Australia A and an England XV

Links to more Japan stories


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