RUGBY JERSEY – Japan national rugby team training match


(Written by AZUL: July 31, 2023)

I went to see the third match of the Rugby Japan national team’s RWC 2023 pre-tournament fixtures.

The scores of the training matches so far were as follows

Round 1 (8 Jul) – VS ALL BLACKS XV: 6-38 ●

Round 2 (15 Jul) – VS ALL BLACKS XV: 27-41 ●

The third match will be played on 22 July against the Samoan national rugby team. The venue was Sapporo Dome in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

I flew from Tokyo Haneda Airport on the morning of the match and took the 9:30 flight to Sapporo.

The flight I boarded that day was full and there were many people wearing the Japan national team jersey. It was indeed a World Cup year, and the cheering enthusiasm of the supporters was gradually increasing. The flight took 90 minutes and I arrived safely at New Chitose Airport.

The temperature there was a pleasant 29°C, as it is more than 1,000 km north of Tokyo. After a 40-minute train ride from New Chitose Airport, I arrived at Sapporo Station, where we had a meal, and then took the underground railway to Sapporo Dome. The journey from Sapporo took about 30 minutes.

The Sapporo Dome is an indoor stadium and air-conditioned, making it comfortable for both players and spectators. If the games were played outdoors during the daytime in mid-summer, the temperature would be close to 40 degrees Celsius, which would be very difficult. Well, the match would not be conducted in such conditions.

The Sapporo Dome was also used as the venue for RWC 2019, with two matches taking place – FIJI vs Australia and England vs TONGA.

My seats on the day were the front row behind the goal and the cheapest seats in Category 4, but I felt a bit better off in the front row.

So, here’s an update on the two teams playing on the day.

First, let’s look at the visiting team, the Samoan National Team (=MANU SAMOA).

The Samoan national team is a strong team, having reached the RWC finals twice before, in the 1990s, the Samoan national team was so strong that the Japanese national team was no match for them, during which time the Japanese national team suffered heavy defeats. The total so far is Samoa’s 11 wins and 5 losses. However, in the last two tournaments, Japan was able to deliver victories with relative ease as the Samoan team, which had a weak economic base, was not strengthened. However, in 2023, the rules of international rugby changed and players who have represented other countries in the past can now represent their home country if they have not represented their first country in a competitive match for 36 months. Furthermore, a team of Samoan and Tongan players has been formed in the SUPER RUGBY, the world’s premier league, to gain experience in high-intensity matches. This will provide a strengthening structure for Samoa’s players, who are highly qualified by nature, and create a team that could be the typhoon of the RWC 2023.

Today’s starting line-up is as follows.

No.NameheightweightageSAMOA Caps
1Jordan Lay185cm117kg3024
2Luteru Tolai180cm120kg251
3Paul Alo-Emile180cm129kg3113
4Brian Alainuuese201cm137kg292
5Michael Curry195cm112kg292
6Taleni Seu198cm118kg293
7Alamanda Motuga180cm110kg283
8Sootala FAASOO193m133kg281
9Jonathan Taumateine181m88kg267
10Christian Lealiifano179cm92kg351(+Australia 26cap)
11Tumua Manu183cm97kg304
12Duncan Paiaaua183cm94kg282
13Ulupano Junior Seuteni188cm103kg349
14Neria Fomai179cm100kg317
15Danny Toala179cm100kg246

** Player to watch **.

Christian Lealiifano. 179 cm, 92 kg, 35 years old. Position = SO.

This is his first cap for Samoa, but he boasts 26 caps for Australia; he also played at RWC 2019 and is expected to have a lot to do with his wealth of experience as a commanding presence who will be responsible for calming the current young national team

Next is an update on the home team, the national team (i.e. Brave Blossoms). The Japanese national team has lost two consecutive training matches and is hoping to get its first win soon. The first match was a complete defeat with no tries scored, but in the second match, although they lost, they put on a couple of attacking displays. Samoa and Japan are in the same qualifying pool and neither side will want to lose. A heated battle is expected.

The starting line-up for the day was as follows.

JAPAN(Brave Blossoms)
No.NameheightweightageJapan Caps
1Keita INAGAKI186cm116kg3345
2Atsushi SAKATE180cm104kg3033
3Jiwon GU183cm118kg2921
4James MOORE195cm110kg3013
5Amato FAKATAVA195cm118kg281
6Jack CORNELSEN195cm110kg2812
7Kazuki HIMENO187cm108kg2825
8Michael LEITCH189cm113kg3478
9Yutaka NAGARE166cm75kg3030
10Seungsin LEE176cm85kg226
11Jone NAIKABULA177cm95kg291
12Shogo NAKANO186cm98kg266
13Dylan RILEY187cm102kg2610
14Kotaro MATSUSHIMA178cm88kg3047
15Ryohei YAMANAKA188cm98kg3527

** Player to watch **.

Seungshin LEE. 176 cm, 85 kg, 22 years old. Position = SO. cap for Japan = 6. Team: KOBELCO Steelers. a commanding presence in Japan’s national team since last year. He is an all-round player with few faults. The only drawback he has is his small stature. Even though he lacks the explosive speed and ultra-long kicks that make him a standout weapon, he is not lacking in game-making ability as a SO and has shown no fluctuations in form. The competition for places with Matsuda is fierce.

Prior to the match, as this is an official Test match,

Her Imperial Highness Princess Akiko, Honorary President of Japan Rugby Reinforcement, gave a pep talk to both teams.

Immediately before kick-off, a War Cry, typical of southern hemisphere rugby teams, was performed. In Samoa, the official name is Siva Tau.

Now for the start of the first half. Kick-off on this occasion was 14:50 and the stadium attendance was 22,063.

6 minutes into the first half:

Samoa kicked off and the game started. The Samoan players, especially the FW players, are one size bigger than the Japanese. The team list shows that on average, the FWs are 10 kg heavier than their Japanese counterparts. The sense of pressure was not half bad. For a while, Samoa advanced the game in the Japanese camp, but in the right corner, Japan’s CTB RILEY kicked the ball deep into the enemy camp.

From a scrum in front of the enemy in-goal on the right edge of the field, the Japanese team attacked from their own scrum with a series of side attacks by the FWs. Gradually, they closed in on the enemy in-goal and finally, Japan’s lock FAKATAVA scored a try at the left edge of the goal posts. The first point was scored by Japan. The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 7-0.

17 minutes into the first half:

While the Japanese team was attacking deep in enemy territory, Samoan flanker SEU was fouled for a high tackle and was temporarily sent off. This was the first foul ejection of this match.The match, which from the outset looked like a fierce meat-and-potatoes battle between the FWs, was the first to be penalised with an exit.

19 minutes into the first half:

The Japan team formed a maul near the opposition in-goal and brought the ball in, but made a mistake at the crucial moment and failed to score. However, shortly afterwards, Samoa committed another high tackle infringement in attack. This was scored by Japan’s SO LEE, making the score 10-0.

Up to this point, the game was almost ideally played by the Japanese national team.

25 minutes into the first half:

The Japan team committed an infringement deep in the crowd, almost in front of their own goal posts, and the Samoan team opted for a PG. SO LEALIFANO scored to make the score 10-3. It was the first score for the Samoan team.

30 minutes into the first half:

The Samoan team launched an attack from their own half and when the Japanese team went to tackle No.8 FAASSO, No.8 MICHAEL of the Japanese team committed a serious infringement by shoulder-bumping his opponent in the head. After deliberation by the referees, MICHAEL was shown a red card and sent off. As a result, Japan’s No.8 MICHAEL was suspended for the next three matches. The Japanese team also had to play the remaining 50 minutes with 14 men, one man less.

37 minutes of the first half:

Samoa’s FWs were 10 kg per player heavier than the Japanese FWs, but the Japanese team’s reduced numbers meant that they were clearly starting to get pushed at set pieces. Gradually, Samoa closed in on the enemy in-goal and, thanks to the FWs’ connection, scored a try on the left side of the goal post. The conversion goal after the try was also successful and the score was tied at 10-10.

The first half ended with this score, leaving a bad aftertaste for the Japanese team going into the second half.

Let’s get the second half underway.

2 minutes into the second half:

The Japanese team is at a numerical disadvantage and needs to score first in the second half. After a series of attacks in the second half, Japan’s lock FAKATAVA skillfully dodges the opposition defence and advances deep into enemy territory, where the Samoan team was forced to commit an infringement, giving Japan a PG opportunity. SO LEE made a steady kick to make the score 13-10 at the near post, 20 metres out.

7 minutes into the second half:

This time around, the momentum was seen in Japan’s favour. A little to the enemy’s left, SH NAGARE kicked up, which Samoan FB TOALA failed to catch and was fouled for a knock-on. From this point onwards, the Japanese team launched a series of attacks, closing in on the enemy in-goal. Here, Samoa committed an offside infringement and, directly in front of the goal posts and 10 metres out, the Japanese team opted for a PG. SO LEE again made a steady run to make the score 16-10.

8 minutes into the second half:

At the far left of the Japanese line, FB Yamanaka’s attempted kick was successfully charged down by Samoan SH TAUMATEINE, who held the ball in the in-goal for the try. Samoa’s SO Lealiifano then successfully converted the conversion goal after a try in a difficult position in the right corner, and the Samoan team showed a quick turnaround. The score was 16-17.

The game had once tilted in Japan’s favour, but the Samoans now took control of the game.

17 minutes into the second half:

The Japanese team tried to push back the tide of the game with a series of attacks, gradually moving forward in the opposition’s territory. After an offside infringement, the Japanese team opted for a penalty kick, which SO LEE converted to put Japan back in front 19-17.

21 minutes into the second half:

A late Samoan try had seen the Japanese team lose control of the game to their opponents, but here they began to gain the upper hand in the set piece and the densely contested battle. After a Samoan infringement deep in enemy territory. The Japanese team opted for the PG, which was a little to the left of the goal post, about 25 metres out, but SO LEE, who was kicking well on the day, was on hand to score it. The score was 22-17, with the Japanese team leading by five points.

23 minutes into the second half:

On the kick-off after the PG, SO LEE of the Japanese team made a knock-on mistake. This gave the Samoan team a scrum deep in enemy territory. From here, Samoa attacked down the left side of the scrum, dodged the Japanese defence and scored a try by WTB MANU in the left corner of the enemy in-goal. After the try, the conversion goal was also successful and the Samoans were back in it. The score was 22-24.

In the end, the game ended with this score, and it was a bad loss for the Japanese team, looking ahead to the main event.

The Samoan team has been steadily strengthening and is expected to face a tough challenge at RWC 2023. With 51 days to go, how far will the national team get? I want to keep a close eye on them.

After this game, I went to Sapporo Beer Garden near the stadium with a friend afterwards and enjoyed local Hokkaido beer and lamb.

It was a short trip of just two days and one night, but it was a very fruitful one.


Stop the war.

Peace to Ukraine


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