The Rugby World Cup is, of course, a quadrennial men’s international rugby union tournament, which was inaugurated in 1987. Nowadays, twelve seeded teams pre-qualify by right, by virtue of their performance in the previous World Cup, while the remaining eight participants are determined by continental qualifying tournaments. Thus, it is possible that a lower-ranked, Tier Two nation may not qualify for every Rugby World Cup.
However, one Tier Two nation that has competed at every Rugby World Cup so far – by virtue of invitation, in the first instance, or qualification via the Asia/Pacific regional tourament or automatically – is Japan. Indeed, it is the ‘Brave Blossoms’ who hold the record for the longest time between wins at the Rugby World Cup.
Winless in 1987, Japan scored nine tries in a comfortable 52-8 victory over Zimbabwe in their third and final Pool 2 match at the Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast on October 14, 1991. However, in five subsequent appearances at the World Cup, in 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011, their best result was a 12-12 draw with Canada at Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux, France on September 25, 2007, which only came courtesy of a last-gasp try by replacement centre Koji Taira.
In fact, it was not until September 19, 2015 – 23 years and 340 days after that initial victory over Zimbabwe – that Japan record their second win at the Rugby World Cup. In their opening Pool B match against two-time world champions South Africa, Japan delivered on what head coach Eddie Jones had promised ‘could be a day to remember for Japanese rugby’. The Springboks led 32-29 late in the game but, after period of sustained pressure, replacement wing Karne Hesketh scored a try after 84 minutes to give Japan an unlikely 34-32 victory.