State of the Nation: Japan

Date published: July 1 2016

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With the June internationals now done and dusted, we take a look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Japan.

A victory against Canada and two losses to Scotland saw all three games decided by 13 points or less in a competitive month of Test rugby.

Opening up with the 26-22 win over the Canadians in Vancouver, Takeshi Kizu and Kotaro Matsushima crossed for Japan's tries to go with Yu Tamura's 16 points off the tee. But in truth the Brave Blossoms should be thankful that Canada failed to convert any of their four tries.

Had Canada been solid with their goal-kicking just once from those tries, the penalty awarded late in the contest would have been pointed to the posts and this could have been a loss for Japan. Fortunately though they escaped and started their month off with a positive result.

Next up it was two games against Scotland, a team they had faced during their impressive Rugby World Cup campaign last year. Taking much from that loss in Gloucester would be unfair seeing as Japan only had three full days to recover from their exploits against South Africa.

Last month though they were hunting revenge and named a side that included Harumichi Tatekawa, Amanaki Mafi, Hendrik Tui and Shota Horie. They were however without the injured Michael Leitch while Ayumu Goromaru didn't feature and they ultimately came up short as two yellow cards before the break allowed Scotland to go from 9-10 down to 23-10 in front. In the end the Scots saw out the match to win 26-12.

The following week a response was needed and they almost claimed that elusive win, leading 13-9 at the interval thanks to Kaito Shigeno's try. But then the boot of Greig Laidlaw salvaged a 21-16 victory for Scotland that sealed the series. For Japan it was a tough pill to swallow.

Being disappointed at coming so close to victory against a strong Scotland selection that included Stuart Hogg and many other first-choice players is reason for optimism though, as after their Rugby World Cup efforts Japan are considered a threat to many Tier 1 sides at the moment.

Had they had the inspirational Leitch fit and leading from the back-row, maybe things would've been different for interim coach Mark Hammett.

He leaves the team in the hands of Jamie Joseph, who must surely be impressed by what he's seen over the past 12 months, with fixtures against more top nations, like Argentina and Wales this November, a positive moving forward as Japan build ahead of their hosting of rugby's elite.

Read the rest of our State of the Nation pieces following the June Tests right here.

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