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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 06:33 GMT 07:33 UK
Valiant Japan add Asian flavour
Japan have frequently won friends at the World Cup if little else.

Their only victory on the game's greatest stage came in 1991, a 52-8 win over Zimbabwe.

But despite the lack of success on the pitch, Japan have played with a vitality and verve which has won plaudits aplenty.

They earned high praise in 1987 despite failing to win a match.

Japan v Ireland 1991
Played 12 - W:1 L:11
1987: Pool stage
1991: Pool stage
1995: Pool stage
1999: Pool stage
The game identified as a possible first win was the opener against the United States in Brisbane, however an 18-21 loss hurt Japanese pride.

But come their time to pack up their bags after another two defeats, manager Shiggy Kono announced that his side could "return home with honour".

The turnaround came in the final match when they threw everything at their Australian hosts.

Having led 9-4 and 13-10, Japan would have gone in up at half-time had referee Jim Fleming spotted Peter Grigg tackling Konijo Yoshinaga without the ball.

Japan ran in three tries and with time running out trailed 23-30 after a missed conversion, only for Australia to cross twice in injury time to seal a convincing, yet undeserved, win.

The architect of their effort was fly-half Seiji Hirao, whose fluent and flawless performance was more akin to his opponent Michael Lynagh.

If Hirao, the pin-up boy of Japanese rugby at the time, was his country's star of the 1987 tournament, Yoshito Yoshida stole the show in 1991.

The winger was the picture of a man in perpetual motion, scoring and creating magnificent tries.

And Japan finally found the reward for all their effort with a first World Cup win in the final match of their campaign against Zimbabwe in Belfast.

But they have yet to double their tally of wins, having been grouped in two strong pools in both 1995 and 1999.

The first of those tournaments included the darkest day in Japanese rugby history, a 145-17 defeat to New Zealand.

Despite their guile and grace with the ball in hand, Japan's problem remains a lack of power up front.

More than a decade ago, Konno was keen to get some "giants" (standing at least 6ft 3ins tall) into the game to help his team secure ball.

"Now that we are developing this kind of player we find that the world has moved on and the forwards are all 6ft 8ins and more," he said in 1991. "Still, we will keep trying."

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