As hosts, there’s an expectation that Japan will finally go one better than their previous eight campaigns at the Rugby World Cup and reach the quarter-finals of the tournament.
Japan, currently ranked ninth in the world, have never progressed beyond the group stages, and having been drawn in Group A alongside Ireland, Scotland, Samoa and Russia, they face quite the challenge in finally breaking such a habit.
Nonetheless, the hosts will no doubt draw encouragement from their performances at the 2015 edition of the World Cup where, alongside Scotland, they finished with three wins (including that historic victory over South Africa) and a draw – only to miss out on qualification as a result of the Scot’s two additional bonus points.
The Cherry Blossoms are unbeaten in 2019, having beaten Fiji, Tonga and the USA on their way to victory in the Pacific Nations Cup.
They kick off the tournament with their clash against Russia in Tokyo on 20 September.
Forwards: Michael Leitch (c), Keita Inagaki, Yusuke Kizu, Koo Ji-won, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Ai Valu, Takuya Kitade, Atsushi Sakata, Shota Horie, Luke Thompson, Wimpie van der Walt, Uwe Helu, James Moore, Hendrik Tui, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Pieter Labuschagne, Kazuki Himeno, Amanaki Mafi
Backs: Kaito Shigeno, Fumiaki Tanaka, Yutaka Nagare, Yu Tamura, Rikiya Matsuda, Kenki Fukuoka, Ataata Moeakiola, Lomano Lemeki, William Tupou, Ryoto Nakamura, Timothy Lafaele, Kotaro Matsushima, Ryohei Yamanaka
Jamie Joseph: The former flanker represented both New Zealand and Japan during his international career, playing for either side at the 1995 and 1999 tournaments respectively. Joseph took charge of the Cherry Blossoms in 2016, having most recently led the side to victory at the Pacific Nations Cup.
Michael Leitch: The New Zealand-born full-back returned from injury in time for selection and leads the side for a second successive World Cup. Leitch, who became a Japanese citizen in 2013 after moving to Sapporo aged 15, possesses all the required skills of a modern openside flanker. In particular, his ability to force turnovers will prove invaluable – as will his all-round experience on the international stage.
Japan have yet to progress beyond the group stages of the World Cup, coming agonisingly close at the 2015 edition.
Michael Leitch after Japan's win over South Africa in 2015 (AFP/Getty)
Japan know how to spring a surprise, as their win over South Africa four years ago shows. Take into account the backing they’ll receive as the hosts, there’s every reason to believe this could be the tournament in which they finally reach the knockout stages. I’m predicting a second-place finish in the group stages and a quarter-final berth for the side.
Japan to win the World Cup: 150/1