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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK
Japan steal the limelight

By Jim Stokes
BBC Sport in Australia

It is not Scotland with their colourful kilted entourage of supporters who are captivating the locals in Townsville.

It is not even the very laid-back French with their smouldering good looks and je ne sais quoi who are hogging the headlines.

Instead, it is the Japanese who have taken Pool B by storm - and they are sitting at the bottom with a solitary point to their name.

It is them and not the Fijians that have been without doubt the biggest crowd-pleasers. They frightened Scotland before going down 32-11, and had the French perspiring - they don't sweat you see - before going under to a late dash of tries.

Japanese fans cheer on their team
Fans have flocked to support Japan's cause

Japan will be looking to finally get that victory when they play the USA on Monday.

Not unnaturally for Japan, there is a tremendous back-up from established rugby nations with three Kiwis - Andy Miller, Reuben Parkinson and Adam Parker.

But the biggest influence comes from their coaching back-room staff where Wallaby great Mark Ella's running ability and nous is very evident and the input of fellow Australians Mark Bell and fitness coach Garry Wallace is also noticeable.

Nearly 20 years ago, the Cherry Blossoms were an up-and-coming force, but their lack of big players, and tactical and technical approach, saw them lose valuable ground.

However, Ella's imprint is evident behind a scrum that was coached back home by former Ireland hooker Ross Nesdale, a Kiwi who has added technique up front in harness with very big hearts.

Not only have Japan got a few tricks up their sleeves in the three-quarters, so far their tight play has not been swallowed up by more experienced packs.

Ryo Yamamura is no bonsai, but is as big a Cherry Blossom as you have seen

One player who has really been catching the eye is winger Daisuke Ohata, a former star with the North Suburbs side in Sydney.

He has been nicknamed the "Dingo" because his running style is likened to the Australian canine.

So far he has picked up 33 tries in 32 Tests and is a big name back home where he has become a television star after winning the equivalent of the United Kingdom's Superstars competition.

Like the US Eagles who have only fleetingly been able to recruit players from their national sport of American Football, Japan have one big man in their pack who had a bright future in Sumo wrestling.

Ryo Yamamura is no bonsai, but is as big as a Cherry Blossom at 112 kilos as you have seen.

At 21, he is the youngest in the squad and has turned downed numerous lucrative approaches to continue with the Sumo wrestling community.

Rugby is growing in popularity in Japan and it will continue to spread after this World Cup, even though the Cherry Blossoms will not go any further in the competition.

They are at present ranked 18th in the world after joining the IRB just in time for the inaugural World Cup in 1987.

They have a player base of 77,000 which is now certain to increase after their recent odyssey.

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