James Haskell believes Japan’s stunning upset of South Africa on Saturday will lift the sport in a nation that is to host the 2019 World Cup.
The England flanker played one season for Tokyo-based club Ricoh Black Rams in 2011 as part of a globetrotting spell that also included stints at the Highlanders in Japan and French Top 14 side Stade Francais.
“This win will have been massive for the game in Japan. I was surprised at how big rugby was there anyway,” Haskell said.
“They like soccer and baseball was huge too, but rugby was also popular. The university games get 60,000 odd who come to watch. The league had viewers but not to the same extent, but university rugby was already there and with the next World Cup being hosted by Japan, it might be a catalyst to kick things forward.
“Maybe it will convert that guy who would go for baseball into rugby because they are mad for it over there.
“When I went to Japan, I found a very disciplined, skilful set-up, especially with their tackling – they weren’t scared of anyone.
“Training was often long and if you could try to have refined that down and distil it into what we saw at the weekend, then a lot of those teams would be a lot more competitive. The problem is that there is a lot of cultural stuff over there that makes a big difference.
“If you have got a hierarchy of players – at Ricoh we had 63 players in the squad – so when you went to a scrummage session if you are playing eight, there were six sets of front rows to go through.”
Haskell will switch his identity in training from Fijian to that of a Welshman to help prepare England for Saturday’s critical World Cup showdown at Twickenham.
Haskell was among the eight players omitted from the matchday 23 that toppled the Islanders with a bonus-point victory and spent the build-up to the opening night of the tournament trying to emulate the style of play awaiting the hosts.
The 30-year-old back row is resigned to being overlooked again for the visit of Wales – the side is named on Thursday – but will happily adapt to the role of one of Warren Gatland’s power runners to ready his team-mates for the pivotal Pool A clash.
“So far in this camp I’ve been Ireland, France and Fiji. We haven’t got as far as coloured bibs yet, but we’re not far off,” Haskell said.
Wales’ World Cup squad arrived in London yesterday having lost another player through injury.
Cardiff Blues centre Cory Allen was released from the squad after suffering a hamstring injury during Wales’ 54-9 victory over opening tournament opponents Uruguay.
Allen, who scored three tries before going off injured, will be replaced by Newport Gwent Dragons’ Tyler Morgan.
The 20-year-old was part of Wales’ training group, but he did not make the final 31-man cut last month. Allen, 22, had become only the fifth Wales player in World Cup history to score a hat-trick of tries before departing the action in Cardiff on Sunday.
He joins Leigh Halfpenny (knee) and Rhys Webb (foot) in suffering a World Cup knockout blow., while Halfpenny’s squad replacement Eli Walker was released due to a hamstring problem just a week after being called up.