|2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A: Japan v Ireland|
|Venue: Shizuoka Stadium, Shizuoka Date: Saturday, 28 September Kick-off: 08:15 BST|
|Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio Ulster; plus text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.|
The next six weeks are likely to define the direction that rugby takes in Japan.
Like any host nation, Japan wants to put its best foot forward and showcase all that is good about the country with the eyes of the sporting world watching on.
However, there is an equal pressure on rugby to impress its hosts.
It is an opportunity for the game to take its following to the next level in a country where it struggles for exposure.
Nothing will grab the public’s attention more than a strong showing from the hosts, and Saturday’s game against Ireland is a perfect opportunity for Japan’s team to launch the sport far deeper into the public consciousness than ever before.
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Taking down the team ranked second in the world would be something of a seminal moment for Japanese rugby, and it is a moment that the team are all too aware of.
“For Japan Rugby’s prosperity, we really need to win,” admitted scrum coach Shin Hasegawa earlier this week.
“There is a pressure to fulfil that expectation but we would also like to enjoy that pressure.”
Japan shocked Springboks at 2015 tournament
Japan’s World Cup win against South Africa in 2015 remains arguably the most famous result of the professional era, and launched the country into the consciousness of rugby fans across the world.
Four years on, the Brave Blossoms have an opportunity to repeat a similarly unlikely feat, only this time on home soil in front of what will be a sea of red and white at Shizuoka’s 50,000-seater Ecopa Stadium.
The Japanese team are coping with handling the pressure, something they admitted they did not do to the best of their ability in the opening win over Russia, of knowing that a good performance will secure a bright future for their sport internally, and also project a positive image of their country to those watching on around the world.
“Right now this is a good trigger for Japan’s people to find out how interesting and exciting rugby is,” says Yohei Oyoshi, a reporter with western Japanese television channel MBS.
“When we think about the competition of course we want Japan to win, but we also want all the teams to enjoy the atmosphere and have a good time here.
“This is a very good opportunity to show the world how beautiful our country is, how safe it is and how friendly we are to anybody in the world.”
‘A different beast’
Ireland have won all seven previous meetings between the sides, with the last two coming in 2017.
The first of those victories came in the same stadium that will host Saturday’s encounter, with Joe Schmidt’s side running out comfortable 50-22 winners.
“From two years ago they are definitely a different beast to what they are now,” said Garry Ringrose, who scored one of Ireland’s seven tries on that day two years ago.
“We are under no illusions to how much stronger and how much better they are.
“The physicality they brought was a big thing,” said Ringrose, who was one of three players, alongside Keith Earls and Cian Healy, to retain their starting place from Ireland’s last visit to Shizuoka.
“After the game there were a few bumps and bruises and we had to try and regroup for the following week so it was incredibly physical.”
With Scotland and Samoa facing each other on Monday, the winner of Saturday’s encounter will take charge of Pool A at the midway point of the group stages.
With a bonus point win already in the bag, defeat would not be terminal for either side.
The future of rugby in Japan, or indeed the success of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, does not hinge on the quality of Saturday’s game, but Japan are targeting a memorable performance that could send the sport into new dimensions of popularity within their country.