(Reuters) - Japan reaching the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup would be “amazing” for the game, former New Zealand winger John Kirwan said ahead of the hosts’ clash against Ireland on Saturday.
“If Japan get through their pool it would be amazing for the game,” said Kirwan, a member of the 1987 World Cup winning All Blacks team. “It would be outstanding for the tournament if Japan qualified for the knockout stages.”
Japan struggled early on before running out 30-10 winners against Russia in their opening game and coach Jamie Joseph credited the impact experienced players like Luke Thompson had off the bench, with the lock being rewarded with a start for the Ireland game.
“When I arrived to coach here we were 19th in the world. When I left we were 11th, they are ninth now and had that fantastic win against South Africa in 2015,” Kirwan said.
“The whole idea of bringing the World Cup to Asia was to open Asia and let’s hope they get through, but if they do, that will be to the detriment of a pretty established nation.”
Japan are set to play Samoa on Oct. 5 and Scotland on Oct. 13, and Kirwan thinks the last pool game will be key to their hopes of qualification.
“Japan have a big game against Samoa but I don’t think it’s their biggest game. I think it is going to come down to the Scotland game,” he said.
“If you look at FIFA you don’t know who is going to win the (football) World Cup, and there are more teams getting better. That needs to be our model as well. We need some of these other nations getting through (to the latter stages).”
Kirwan, who coached Japan from 2007 to 2011 also expects the World Cup to become more intense as the battle to qualify for the knockout stages heats up.
“I can probably name six of the eight quarter-finalists but the other two are really interesting,” he added. “Argentina are in trouble now after losing to France in Pool C. They are going to have to do something special, which is possible.
“But then is it going to be Japan or Scotland to fill one of those other two spots?
“I think the standard of rugby has been good. There haven’t been any games where you’re thinking ‘this is boring me’.”
Reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; editing by Sudipto Ganguly