By Nick Said
TOYOTACITY, Japan (Reuters) – Japan coach Jamie Joseph is not sure if his team is more globally popular than New Zealand, but can feel a massive swell of public support as they stand on the brink of an historic Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
The Brave Blossoms’ 38-19 victory over Samoa at the City of Toyota Stadium on Saturday means a win or draw in their final Pool A match against Scotland in Yokohama on Oct. 13 will seal a first-ever knockout place, while even a bonus-point defeat may also be enough.
New Zealander Joseph was asked if his side are now more interesting to watch for the neutral spectator than the world champions, and while he batted away that question, he praised the Japanese people for getting behind the side.
“I can’t talk about the All Blacks but what I’m witnessing every Saturday is a full stadium,” Joseph told reporters. “It started with the Russia game and has been growing every week since then.
“The Japanese public are really behind the team. But that’s what we knew would happen if we won test matches.
“It gives the players – I don’t know if there’s one word for it – but it makes us incredibly proud. We are playing for 125 million people and most of them don’t normally support rugby. But they are behind us.”
Much of that new-found favour came following the surprise 19-12 victory over high-ranking Ireland in their second Pool A game, which has presented Japan with the chance to not only qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time, but also secure top spot in the group and avoid New Zealand in the next stage.
But Joseph has also cautioned that the Ireland victory has perhaps raised expectations a little too high.
“I’ve got to put everybody straight. We’ve got a really awesome opportunity to do something that’s not been done before. No-one thought we could beat Ireland and now they think we can win every game we play. That’s how silly it is.”
He said they are not looking at anything beyond the crucial Scotland fixture having also claimed three wins at the 2015 World Cup in England, which were not enough to secure a place in the knockout stages.
“It’s game-by-game. Enjoy this week again and then get back for what’s going to be a really tough game against Scotland.”
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Christopher Cushing)