KYOTO: Japan coach Jamie Joseph said Thursday that the Brave Blossoms were World Cup small fry, despite a breakout performance two years ago.
The host nation will share the same pool as Ireland and Scotland for the 2019 tournament following Wednesday’s draw in Kyoto, where Joseph confessed to feeling a little intimidated.
“It wasn’t until I got on the stage beside (All Blacks coach) Steve Hansen and (England’s) Eddie Jones that I realised the magnitude,” the New Zealander told reporters.
“I felt like a small sardine amongst a bunch of tuna.”
Japan shed their erstwhile tag as World Cup whipping boys at the 2015 World Cup, where they recorded three victories under Jones, including a stunning 34-32 win over two-time champions South Africa.
They have struggled to build on that momentum since, but avoiding the likes of the All Blacks, England and Australia in the group stage at least gives them a fighting chance on home soil.
“I read in the paper that we’re in a favourable pool,” shrugged Joseph. “But Ireland have beaten England and the All Blacks and in my mind are the third best team in the world.
“And Scotland is a team who, like Japan, are a very proud nation,” he added before taking his team to Hong Kong for a slightly less glamorous Asian Rugby Championship fixture on Saturday.
“Japan have never been able to beat them and it just highlights how big a challenge the 2019 World Cup will be.”
Joseph’s side are expected to face a baptism of fire against either Ireland or Scotland in the opening match of Asia’s first World Cup.
“There are two ways to look at it,” he said. “You can play one of the tier one teams straight away and if you’re successful – like in 2015 – you get a lot of confidence going forward and have a successful tournament.
“Or you lose and that puts a lot of pressure on the team. Then if you lose two, the tournament’s over. Thankfully I don’t have to make that decision. I’ll accept whatever’s coming and prepare accordingly.”
Japan conveniently host Ireland and Romania – expected to be the third European team to qualify for Pool A – next month and Joseph is adopting a no-pain, no-gain attitude in the build-up to the World Cup.
“Next year the experience we get playing tough teams will be our best preparation,” he said.
“There is going to be some short-term pain but playing teams that are ranked ahead of us is the way forward.”