All Blacks legend and Japan coach John Kirwan has a very clear idea of what he would like his team to achieve at the World Cup as they build towards hosting the global showpiece in 2019.
Drawn in a tough Pool A with host and overwhelming favorite New Zealand, two-time finalists France, Tonga and Canada, Japan is aiming to build for the future with a strong showing in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Japan will become the first Asian nation to host rugby's showcase event in 2019 and needs to show it is making steady progress at this year's event.
Kirwan, who has been in charge of Japan's squad for the past five years, has set a target of two wins and automatic qualification for the 2015 World Cup. If Japan finishes in third place in Pool A, it will be exempt from having to go through regional qualifying for the next World Cup.
"Our goal is to win two games, automatically qualify for 2015, and then aim to get into the top eight in 2015 and 2019," said Kirwan. "England, France, the All Blacks are coming to win it ... others are coming to make the quarterfinals. Our goal is to show the world how far we've come."
Japan got a recent boost in confidence in July when it won the Pacific Nations Cup for the first time with a 24-13 win over 2007 World Cup quarterfinalists Fiji. It was Japan's first win over Fiji in 17 years.
Japan also beat Tonga 29-19 in the tournament. Their only loss of the four-nation event was a 34-15 defeat to Samoa.
The theory about Japan's lack of success over the years is that they have been too small to compete at rugby's most elite level, but Kirwan refuses to buy into that.
"I think that has been an excuse up until now," said Kirwan. "We have the fastest speed over 15 yards. We need to play a fast, agile type of game and really concentrate on our skills and ability."
One of Kirwan's biggest challenges has been finding the right blend between local talent and foreign imports. International rugby allows foreign players to represent an adopted nation if they have been living in that country for more than three consecutive years.
"What I've said is we need the foreigners to be competitive (now), but if we still need them in 10 years then we haven't done our job," Kirwan said. "I'm highly sensitive that my job is to make Japanese rugby strong, not pick a team of foreigners."
Japan is expected to have about 10 imported players on its 30-man squad in New Zealand.
Of the local players to watch, captain Takashi Kikutani has 33 caps for Japan, with 18 tries. The 25-year-old flank has been one of Japan's most consistent players over the years but missed the 2007 World Cup with an injury.
Japan beat Zimbabwe 52-8 at the 1991 World Cup but has gone winless at the tournament since then. At the 2007 World Cup in France, Japan had a 12-12 draw with Canada and were narrowly beaten 35-31 by Fiji after a one-sided 91-3 loss to Australia in their opening match.
Like many in the sport, Kirwan knows the importance of selling the game in new markets. Inclusion of Sevens in the Olympic program will help develop the game among non-traditional powers in the lucrative Asian markets.
"Once we start the cycle for the 2016 Olympics next year, the level of investment in the sport is going to be beyond anything the sport has seen in this region," Kirwan said.
In New Zealand, Japan will open against France before taking on New Zealand, Tonga and Canada. Kirwan keeps a sense of humor when talking about his team's schedule.
"We start with France and then we get the All Blacks," said Kirwan. "Once we get those two easy ones out of the way we've then got Tonga and Canada."
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