Japan has a vibrant domestic league and was the main contender to New Zealand to host RWC 11. The decision to give the cup to the smaller country was made six years ago and the Mole thinks it was an opportunity missed. Japan is 10th most populous country in the world, with a staggering 127m people and 3rd largest economy in the world. Japan will host the 2019 tournament, by which time rugby, or the Sevens variation, will be an Olympic sport. Instead of introducing another Australian franchise to the Super 15, Mole believes that Tokyo should have got one team and Hong Kong another to make a sixteen team tournament. Teams could have been populated by a mix of Islanders, Argentinians, other imports and local talent. This would give the game massive exposure in two huge economies and introduce more crowds, sponsorship and interest.
It’s still difficult to identify Lièvremont’s first team from this selection while the Mole would struggle to recognise Japan’s first team at the best of times and will revert to stereotypes.
Fabien Barcella returns to international action after an injury enforced absence. The dynamic prop is a good ball carrier and strong scrummager. Alongside him is William Servat, the formidable Toulousain. Imanol Harinordoquy provides a disruptive lineout presence that Japan may find it difficult to adapt to. The backline is full of pace and attacking talent. Maxime Medard is prone to making turnovers during the course of a game but is a treat to watch with the ball in hand. Yachvili starts at scrum half and France will hope that the talented Biarritz general brings some snap to his game rather than admiring the ball at the base of slow rucks.
Japan qualified for the World Cup by beating Kazakhstan to win the Asian qualification group. They have been at every World Cup tournament, winning only once, against Zimbabwe in 1991. Despite that, the Cherry Blossoms are ranked 13th in the world. The physical limitations of Japanese players mean that a victory against France is improbable.
France are not renowned for their focus but their set piece dominance and attacking ability means that a 30 point victory is on the cards. The bookies make it a 41 point game which seems a bit high against a tenacious Japanese defence.