It's been more than 16 years, but Japan still feels the sting from its last rugby match against New Zealand.
At the third Rugby World Cup, Japan played New Zealand on June 4, 1995, and lost 145-17. It remains the largest margin of defeat in a World Cup match, and Masahiro Kunda, Japan's captain at the time, takes responsibility.
Trailing by 40-50 points, Kunda told his teammates on the field, "No matter how many points we concede, let's go and get a try."
The Japanese team concentrated on offense, and as a result, "we got two tries," Kunda, now 44, says.
But the Japanese watched hopelessly as New Zealand's players scored at will against the depleted defense. The New Zealanders lifted their teammates up to catch the ball during kick-offs, a now-standard technique that was completely new to Japan at the time.
"If I hadn't told my teammates to attack, we could have kept our loss to under 100 points," Kunda says.
Japan gets a chance to redeem itself on Sept. 16 at the World Cup. But it won't be easy. New Zealand is the world's No. 1 ranked team, and as the host nation will have the home-field advantage.
Still, Japan has narrowed the gap somewhat since its humiliation in 1995, when Japan was focused on amateur rugby while the rest of the world was switching to pro.
The loss also hammered the reputation of Japanese rugby and weakened the sport's popularity in Japan. Plans were being considered to allow two Asian nations to compete in the Rugby World Cup, but after that loss, the limit was kept at one.
Now coach of Japan's B team, Kunda says Japan still has little chance to defeat the powerhouse. But he suggests a better strategy.
"A weak team's golden rule is to constantly think of battling on enemy territory," Kunda says. "It's important to think about how to score the first point and show fans how hard the players are trying."
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