Clash in October! All Blacks to Play Japan National Team for First Time in Four Years | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Clash in October! All Blacks to Play Japan National Team for First Time in Four Years

Japan vs. New Zealand "unofficially" confirmed for October 29 at the National Stadium

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The customary haka before a match. Beauden Barrett, who is attracting attention not only in Japan but also internationally, can be seen in the third person from the left (Photo: AFLO)

The New Zealand All Blacks, the national team that has won the Rugby World Cup next year a record three times, are set to visit Japan and play at the National Stadium on October 29. If officially announced, this will be the first time the Japanese national team will play each other since the previous World Cup in 2019, when they played at Ajinomoto Stadium and lost 31-69. It will be the first time the All Blacks will play at the newly renovated National Stadium.

The All Blacks are a powerful team that has won three of the last nine World Cups, along with South Africa, and are always competing to be the best in the world in terms of power and popularity. For the Japanese national team, this will be a perfect training match for the World Cup coming up in September 2023.

Japan, which reached the last eight for the first time in its history in 2019 and is expected to make further progress at the 2023 World Cup in France, has had trouble organizing matches with foreign teams due to the spread of the new coronavirus that began in 2020.

In 2020, the year after the World Cup was held in Japan, the team was unable to play a single match, and the Sunwolves, which was formed in Japan to compete in Super Rugby, a professional league in the southern hemisphere, disappeared after that year. There is an absolute lack of competition for Japanese players to seriously compete overseas with foreign players.

On May 30, the day after Rugby League One, which was launched this year, ended with the Saitama Wild Knights winning the championship, PR Keita Inagaki, who has been selected for the Japan national team since the 2015 World Cup, said at the annual awards ceremony , “The Japan national team currently plays at most seven test matches a year. Now that the Sunwolves are gone (in 2020), will that be enough to make up for the gap with the rest of the world?” He also expressed his concerns and challenges he feels as a player.

Japan’s national team will play England, Argentina, Samoa, and the second-ranked American nation in next year’s World Cup. England will be led by Eddie Jones, who once coached the Japan national team, and will be looking to avenge the disappointment of finishing runner-up in 2019. Argentina has played multiple matches each year against NZ and Australia in the southern hemisphere, beating the All Blacks in 2020. The All Blacks game is an important match to gauge where Japan is at the moment, as the Japanese national team will need to be able to beat either to advance to the quarterfinals of the World Cup, which will be tougher than second place in the qualifying pool.

Barrett and his teammates go to a miso ramen restaurant in Shinbashi in September 2019, when Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup (Photo by Yuri Adachi).

On the other hand, what is in it for the All Blacks to play a lower-ranked Japanese team? A veteran rugby writer revealed: 

The All Blacks are rather eager to come to Japan. This is because the All Blacks and Super Rugby, especially in 2020, have been drastically cut back on the number of games they play because of Corona and the lack of money coming into the association. Even in 2020, when the Japanese national team was not able to play a single international match, there were talks going on behind the scenes to have the All Blacks and the Japanese national team play in Fukuoka, through the network of former All Blacks warrior and Japan head coach Joseph. That, too, eventually disappeared because of Corona.”

“However, if the All Blacks could play in Japan this time, they could expect to receive admission fees from spectators and broadcasting rights fees, as they are still very popular. After the All Blacks play Japan, they are scheduled to play Wales, Scotland, and England in Europe after November 6, and since the popularity of the All Blacks is also strong in Europe, income can be expected there as well. New Zealand will have to pass through somewhere before going on this European tour, and Japan is an advantage for the NZ Association as a “transit point” for the tour.”

Even in New Zealand, which is known as the “Kingdom of Rugby,” not even half of the scheduled Super Rugby league matches in 2020 could be completed due to the spread of the pandemic. Clubs, no longer able to generate revenue from admission fees, were forced to cut back on staff due to a decline in funding. The money generated by the All Blacks’ tour of Japan and Europe is also important to restore funds for the NZ Association’s operating expenses and the development of young players.

Incidentally, the 2019 match against Japan at Ajinomoto Stadium attracted 43,751 people in a venue with a capacity of 47,000. Last year’s match at the Millennium Stadium in Wales also sold out 70,000 tickets in advance, and if it happens in October at the National Stadium, it is quite possible to fill the 68,000-capacity venue. That would also mean more money for the All Blacks.

The 2022 All Blacks, announced in March, included many players who already played in Japan. Including FB McKenzie, who played for Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, SO Beauden Barrett, who played for Top League Suntory in 2021 and was the leading scorer, and LO Sam Whitelock, who played for Panasonic in 2020 and has over 100 NZ national caps. 

However, three players remain for the three games against Ireland scheduled to play  in July: Beauden Barrett, LO Whitelock, and Retallick, who played for Kobe Steel, while Perenara and others were not selected. McKenzie, who played for Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, and Tuipulotu, who played for Toyota Verblitz, will be looking for a second chance from the appeal in the states where they signed. Either way, this is sure to be a fun match for Japanese fans.

Ramen noodles and dumplings in between gulps of beer (photo by Yuri Adachi).
Retallick (right), who enjoyed miso ramen with Barrett in 2019, has been named to the All Blacks again this year (Photo by Yuri Adachi)
Retallick (right), who enjoyed miso ramen with Barrett in 2019, has been named to the All Blacks again this year (Photo by Yuri Adachi)
Retallick played for Kobe Steel in 2021 (Photo: Afro)
Tokyo Suntory Sangoliath’s D. Mackenzie has become widely known to Japanese fans as the “Noble Prince of Smiles” (Photo: Sankei Shimbun)
On October 30 last year, he earned his 100th cap against Wales. After the game, Beauden Barrett was congratulated by SH Perenara with the Maori customary nose-to-nose greeting (photo: AFLO).

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