It’s an underdog team in the quarterfinals. It’s a 7000-island archipelago in the north-west Pacific made up five main islands, where the rugby team is completely dominated by Pacific Islanders.
Yes, it’s the host nation, Japan.
“Japan being the only tier two nation to qualify in the quarter-finals shows what solid preparation and game-plan can do against tier one nations”, says Ben Koteka, the development coordinator of Cook Islands Rugby Union.
It’s the teams’ style of play and attitude that has won the hearts of supporters here and around the world, he says.
“Their accuracy, speed and endurance in this World Cup is amazing. Their never say die spirit is just unbelievable.”
Little things like their preparation, which involved 200 days of camping, showed how well they had prepared for this tournament.
“As the host nation they have the support of the people. Also the cyclone that has affected Japan will surely inspire them to do well.
“Japan has shown they can attack from anywhere; they are fast in this area. South Africa will surely try to slow them down and but as Japan said they have nothing to lose so they will go all out in this match.”
Japan-born Date Hideki, who lives in Rarotonga, says he’s delighted to see his team getting stronger, game by game. But the deaths caused by Typhoon Hagibis had brought a sad lining to the team’s progress through the tournament.
He is currently organising some items to be sent to Japan such as water and instant food to the stricken areas.
Cook Islander Robbie Daniel says this country’s love for the All Blacks remains – but his support for his wife’s team is strong this weekend.
Excited, wife Kana Daniel acknowledged the Pacific Islanders in the team, and says she is excited to watch tomorrow’s quarter final.
Yesterday, her family back home sent a Japan jersey for theirfive-year-old son Jiro. Those jerseys are valuable currency: more than 200,000 Japan Rugby World Cup jerseys have been sold and they’re now in short supply in the host nation, commanding big prices.
The Brave Blossoms jerseys have become the must-have attire for rugby fans, whether they’re Japanese or simply just fans of the game.
Kana said compared to four years ago, Japan reaching the quarter-final shows the team’s commitment.
And the family thanks Cook Islands TV for airing the Rugby World Cup and giving them a chance to support their team.
Daniel adds: “The Pacific backing for Japan is amazing, they have their heart in the right places because Japan has always been seen as non-qualifier, but today they have beaten the main teams in their pool and we want to see them make to the semi-finals.”