Japan’s Brave Battle Ends at Rugby World Cup 2023, Leaving a Legacy and Dreams

Japan’s run at the 2023 Rugby World Cup came to an end on Sunday at Nantes’ Stade de Beaujoire as they lost 39-27 to Argentina.

     In a highly entertaining game that saw both sides given a standing ovation by the sold-out crowd of 33,624, the Brave Blossoms were outscored five tries to three in a game they had to win if they were to progress to the quarterfinals.

   “If you were a neutral then it would have been a great match to watch,” said lock Amato Fakatava, who scored a superb try in the first half, his third of the tournament.

Rugby World Cup 2023 – Pool D – Japan vs. Argentina – Stade de Beaujoire, Nantes.

     “I’m very proud of the team for what we did out there. We didn’t get the result that we wanted, so now we have to look forward and build towards next year. We have a lot of things to change for the future so that we can have a stronger team at the next Rugby World Cup.”

     It was an emotional day for head coach Jamie Joseph as it turned out to be his final game in charge of the national team following his decision to return home to New Zealand.

     “I’m just the guy who gets them all together – next man up, somebody will take care of it,” he said after the game.

   “In really tough and difficult circumstances, they’ve been able to get from the Rugby World Cup 2019 to a stage where they can be proud of this World Cup.”

Rugby World Cup 2023 – Pool D – Japan vs. Argentina – Stade de Beaujoire, Nantes caption.

     Japan certainly had their chances to win the game.

     Fakatava was followed onto the scoresheet by Naoto Saito and Jone Naikabula, with Rikiya Matsuda kicking three conversions and a penalty and Lomano Lava Lemeki adding a well-taken drop goal.

     But every time they closed to within couple of points of Argentina, the Pumas responded with a try of their own with wing Mateo Carreras bagging a hat-trick.

    Michael Leitch and Shota Horie were both playing in their fourth World Cup, having made their tournament debuts back in 2011 in New Zealand.

     Leitch famously led the Brave Blossoms when they beat South Africa in 2015 and when they reached the quarterfinals on home soil in 2019. And one constant has been the presence of Horie at hooker.

     Former Japan flanker Hendrix Tui wrote on X, formerly Twitter, the following about the two veterans.

     “Part of a rare group of men to ever do it, 4 Rugby World Cups. Otsukare and congratulations! The work and sacrifice you guys have put in over the years to help put Japan Rugby on the map has forever changed Japan Rugby history. #legends.”

     Leitch, in particular had an outstanding campaign in France, making countless tackles, being the main source of line-out ball and scoring two tries.

     His successor as captain, Kazuki Himeno, had a message for the huge number of fans who had travelled from Japan for the game, in addition to those watching at home.

Rugby World Cup 2023 – Pool D – Japan vs. Argentina – Stade de Beaujoire, Nantes caption.

     “We’re gutted to not get the results we wanted, but we came this far because of all the fans’ support,” he said.

     “This time, we couldn’t get to the top of Mount Everest to bloom the cherry blossoms, but our legacy, culture, goals and dreams will be carried onto the next. I believe that Japan rugby will continue to grow.”