Japan may be making their first Women’s Rugby World Cup appearance since 2002, but that hasn’t stopped coach coach Goshi Arimizu from setting his side a target of a top eight finish in Ireland next month.
The Sakura 15s are ranked 14th in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings and will face France, hosts Ireland and Australia in Pool C, the sides ranked fourth, fifth and sixth respectively.
Japan won the Asia/Oceania qualifier in Hong Kong last December to secure their place at Ireland 2017 and will arrive on the back of another successful Asia Rugby Women’s Championship title defence after two emphatic wins over Hong Kong earlier this month.
“We are aiming to reach the top eight,” said Arimizu. “These players are the ones who are capable of competing hard in tough matches against international powerhouses on the world’s big stage.”
“No one on our squad knows the reality of tough battles at the Women’s Rugby World Cup. Reaching the top eight in the World Cup is a unknown world for Japanese rugby, too, but we’d like to make it for sure with our players and staff member.”
Arimizu has opted for a split of 16 forwards and 12 backs in his squad, 17 of whom were involved in that successful qualification campaign, including captain Siena Saito and Yuki Sue. Saito is the most capped player in the squad with 16 matches, but more than half of the squad have played five or less times for the Sakura 15s.
Ayaka Suzuki and Aya Nakajima both played for Japan at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, while Mateitoga Bogidraumainadave, Honoka Tsutsumi, Mayu Shimizu and Iroha Nagata also represented the Sakura Sevens in the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series round on home soil in Kitakyushu in April.
The youngest player on the WRWC squad is a 17-year-old high school player, Moe Tsukui.
“Our men’s national team moved us and gave us hopes at RWC 2015,” said captain Saito. “We also want to make sure this tournament will be remembered by many people.
“For the sake of our predecessors who have led women’s rugby this far and those who will take on a role in future of Japanese women’s rugby, we want to achieve our aim of reaching the top eight, and then hand it over to RWC 2019 in Japan.”
Japan will leave for Ireland on Tuesday and continue to fine-tune their preparations to ensure they are “100 per cent” for their opening encounter with France at Billings Park on 9 August.
Forwards: Makoto Ebuchi, Mizuho Kataoka, Seina Saito (captain), Ayano Sakurai, Yui Shiozaki, Yuki Sue, Ayaka Suzuki, Sayaka Suzuki, Misaki Suzuki, Maki Takano, Aya Nakajima, Ai Hyugaji, Maiko Fujimoto, Mateitoga Bogdraumanadave, Saki Minami, Aoi Mimura.
Backs: Keiko Kato, Riho Kurogi, Mayu Shimizu, Ai Tasaka, Moe Tsukui, Honoka Tsutsumi, Makiko Tomita, Iroha Nagata, Yumeno Noda, Eriko Hirano, Wasana Fukushima, Minori Yamamoto.