September 30, 2019 / 4:07 AM / 14 days ago

World Cup rivals must learn from fit and fast Japan: Woodward

(Reuters) - Speed, agility and fitness have helped Japan take their game to new heights and Saturday’s stunning 19-12 victory over Ireland at the Rugby World Cup is proof of how devastatingly effective the hosts can be, former England coach Clive Woodward has said.

Shocking an Ireland side, who were recently ranked number one in the world, gave the Brave Blossoms their second win of the tournament and a strong chance of advancing to the knockout stages for the first time.

“After Japan’s incredible victory over Ireland ... the rugby world must take a serious look at how the Cherry Blossoms are taking their game to new heights,” Woodward, who led England to World Cup glory in 2003, wrote in a column for the Daily Mail.

“By modern standards they are a small side yet they punch massively above their weight ... we can all learn from them.

“They counter that lack of bulk with fitness levels that are right off the scale, worthy of Olympic athletes and this enables them to play at an extraordinary tempo for the full 80 minutes.”

Woodward said Japan were ahead of the curve with optimum fitness something that is still uncharted territory for most rugby players.

“England achieved great things in 2003 because we were fitter than other sides, it gave us an edge, but I don’t believe rugby generally has kicked on in this respect,” Woodward said.

“The demands of long domestic seasons and ... perhaps too much international rugby has seen many sides opt for durability and reliability ... it’s an eye opener when a team like Japan —and New Zealand — seem to play with the fast forward button on.

“They play on their terms and that challenges the opposition who must have the ability to match that tempo or the confidence to impose their preferred game plan ... the unspectacular and clever stuff is helping to make (Japan) so effective.”

Japan, who beat Russia 30-10 in their opener, take on Samoa in their next Pool A fixture on Saturday.

Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; editing by Sudipto Ganguly

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