Friday, September 16, 2011

Pacific Cup champions confident ahead of All Blacks clash

Japan believe they are a far better side that the outfit that lost to the All Blacks 16 years ago in a match that to this day remains one of the heaviest defeats in rugby history.

In Bloemfontein Japan lost 145-17 during the pool stages of the 1995 Rugby World Cup to a rampant All Blacks team, and the ‘Cherry Blossoms’ have admitted that they have talked of atoning for that defeat.

Lock Toshizumi Kitagawa, one of five players who featured in Japan’s loss to France, said the team was determined to show their improvement.

The 195cm, 110kg Toyota Verblitz lock characterises the new breed of Japanese rugby players, who have a lot more belief that their counterparts over a decade ago.

"As soon as we found out that we were playing New Zealand in New Zealand, that defeat crossed everyone's minds," he said.

"We're determined to show how much we've improved since then."

Japan won the Pacific Nations Cup this year, and while they lost to a powerful Samoan team in Tokyo, they defeated Tonga in Suva and Fiji in Lautoka – the latter with a bonus point – to secure the championship.

Coach John Kirwan has made ten changes for the team, saying he wants to ensure all 30 players are utilised during the World Cup.

But there is also the pre-tournament goal of winning two matches, and there is little doubt that some of the Japanese big guns are being saved for fixtures against Tonga and Canada.

It is a big goal, for aside from a 12-12 draw with Canada in 2007, Japan is yet to win a World Cup match in 15 attempts.

It will certainly be a massive celebration when they break their record drought.

Honda Heat tighthead prop Nozomu Fujita believed Japan could give the All Blacks a shock based on what he saw in the opening match of the World Cup.

"I don't want to be seen as having a big mouth, but from what I saw of them in the opening game I think we've got a chance," Fujita said.

"I'm really looking forward to playing them."

Taihei Ueda, Takahisa Usuzuki, Koji Taira, Yuta Imamura, Hirotoki Onozawa, Murray Williams, Atsushi Hiwasa; Takashi Kikutani (captain), Michael Leitch, Itaru Taniguchi, Toshizumi Kitagawa, Hithoshi Ono, Nozomu Fujita, Yusuke Aoki, Naoki Kawamata. Reserves: Hiroki Yuhara, Kensuke Hatakeyama, Yuji Kitagawa, Sione Talikavili Vatuvei, Tomoki Yoshida, Shaun Webb, Alisi Tupuailai.

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