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Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Monday, 12 February 2007

Eastern Promise: Japanese rugby

By Sean Davies
BBC Sport

Nick name: Cherry Blossoms


Red and white
Anthem: Kimi ga Yo

Japan are the traditional rugby superpowers of Asia and have qualified for every World Cup, but the Cherry Blossoms have struggled to transfer their Far East dominance into competitiveness on the world stage.

Wales v Japan

The first games in Japan were played by ex-pats and visiting sailors.

Two Cambridge University graduates - Professor Edward Bramwell and Tanaka Ginnosuke - are credited with introducing the game to the natives, winning over students at Keio University in 1899, and the Japanese RFU was formed on 30 November, 1926.

The domestic game is dominated by big-money company teams, whose cash has attracted many ageing stars from the major rugby-playing nations.

As a team sport it trails far behind football and baseball in popularity, but the Japanese RFU hope that a bid to host the 2015 World Cup will boost the sport, after the disappointment of losing out to New Zealand for the 2011 tournament.

Wales' first four games against the Cherry Blossoms were all non-cap internationals, and they ran riot in the first three.

Matt Cockbain
Matt Cockbain is one of the foreign stars to play in Japan

A 62-14, 11-try Wales win at Cardiff Arms Park in 1973 was followed by two victories in Japan in 1975 - 56-12 (10 tries) and 82-6 (14 tries, including a JPR Williams hat-trick and 34 points for Phil Bennett).

But with the golden age gone, Wales limped to a 29-24 Arms Park win in 1983, a performance regarded by the Jpaanese as one of the best in their rugby history.

The first Test between the sides came in 1993, and Wales passsed 50 points for the first time in their full international history.

Andy Lloyd scores for Wales against Japan in 2001
Wales have a huge try count against Japan

Ieuan Evans scored the first of his two tries after just 45 seconds and Scott Gibbs got his first international score as the home side eased to a 55-5 success.

Japan's only try fell to wing Ian Williams, who had already been capped 17 times by Australia.

The next meeting between the two sides was their opening match of the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, Wales cruising to a 57-10 win in Bloemfontein, their only victory in the tournament.

A 20-year-old Gareth Thomas made his debut in the game, becoming the first Welsh player since the 19th century to score a hat-trick on his debut.

Eight days later the Cherry Blossoms were humiliated 145-17 by New Zealand.

Wales v Japan
Colin Charvis scored four tries against Japan in 2004

Their only victory in six World Cups remains a 52-8 triumph over Zimbabwe in Belfast in 1991.

Wales profited from Japan's RWC woes in their second game of the 1999 tournament, running in nine tries in a 64-15 win at the new Millennium Stadium.

The visitors - notably outstanding wing Daisuke Ohata - actually gave the home crowd some early scares, but ultimately the game was all about Neil Jenkins.

The Ginger Monster's 19 points took him level with Michael Lynagh's world record of 911 international points.

Wales v Japan
Tom Shanklin crosses in Wales' record 98-0 win in 2004

In 2001, with Graham Henry leading the Lions in Australia, caretaker coach Lynn Howells took a development team on a two-Test trip to Japan.

The tourists lost their opening game against Japan's premier club side Suntory and struggled to beat a Select XV, but a solid forward platform paved the way for Shane Williams to score four tries in a 64-10 first Test win in Osaka.

Wales trailed by a point at half-time in the second international in Tokyo, but the visitors rallied after the break for a 53-30 win, Gareth Thomas getting a hat-trick and Tom Shanklin two tries on his debut.

Japan coach John Kirwan
Kirwan plans to instil the "Samurai Spirit" in Japan

The last meeting between the sides was altogether more comfortable for Wales, whose 98-0 win at the Millennium Stadium in 2004 was their biggest-ever winning margin.

Colin Charvis got four tries, Shanklin a hat-trick, and Gavin Henson converted all 14 tries for a 100% kicking performance in Wales' last game before their 2005 Grand Slam campaign.

Wales will expect to run in plenty more tries in Cardiff on 20 September if their World Cup hopes are to have any credibility.

But Japan coach John Kirwan has vowed to follow a brand of rugby that suits his squad and to bring out the "Samurai Spirit", and has targeted at least two wins from the tournament.

see also
Wales v Japan: Full record
12 Feb 07 |  Rugby Union
Kimi ga Yo - Japanese anthem
12 Feb 07 |  Rugby Union
Scrum V's rugby history
11 Aug 07 |  Welsh

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