RUGBY NEWS - Japan rugby coach Jamie Joseph said Wednesday his team were capable of making history by reaching the quarter-finals at next year's World Cup.
The 2019 tournament hosts blanked Georgia 28-0 last weekend to complete a busy month of home Tests with a second victory after splitting a two-match series with Italy.
It was the first time Japan had held a side ranked in the world's top 12 scoreless, but it was the character shown by the Brave Blossoms in bouncing back from their second-Test loss to Italy that prompted a rare display of bravado from Joseph.
"During the Italy Tests we showed glimpses of our brand of rugby - players executing with confidence and making great decisions," the former All Black told reporters.
"But the Georgia Test showed the commitment and alignment of the team, and we are starting to build exactly the type of character we need in preparation for the World Cup," added Joseph, who tipped his side to "achieve something great" next year.
"If we make the last eight it would be a great achievement and I do think we are on track - if the players are willing to put their bodies on the line. My job is to find a way to win, to find a way to create confidence for the players."
Japan, once the whipping boys of the World Cup, posted three victories at the 2015 tournament under current England coach Eddie Jones, including an astonishing 34-32 upset over two-time world champions South Africa.
Tango in Paris
Their form dipped initially after Joseph took over in 2016 but the Japanese have shown genuine improvement over the past year, particularly in a 23-23 tango with France in Paris last November - a match they really should have won.
"I don't feel relief," insisted the 48-year-old, after clear signs Japan have turned the corner.
"If you believe in what you're doing and what you're doing is right, you just keep on going."
Joseph has had a testing year of double duties after taking charge of the Tokyo-based Sunwolves, but he credited the Super Rugby competition for toughening up his players.
"That's one of the biggest reasons why we are starting to improve," he said, mindful of critics who called for the Sunwolves to be booted out of the competition after a torrid first two seasons.
"Super Rugby is the toughest competition in the world and 100 percent I believe we need to continue our involvement in Super Rugby if we want to be competitive on the world stage."
Japan take on Ireland, Scotland, Russia and a play-off winner in Pool A at next year's World Cup but Joseph warned his players they will need to stop conceding "soft" penalties if they hope to reach the knockout stage.
"We let ourselves down (in the second game) against Italy," he said.
"If we are going to beat Ireland and Scotland at the World Cup, it's going to come down to moments - and we can't afford soft moments like that."