Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on May 2014

Japan vs. Hong Kong, 2013 Asian Five Nations (© 2013 JRFU, photo by RJP H. Nagaoka)

Japan is just one win away from qualifying for next year’s Rugby World Cup (RWC) in England.

Last Saturday, the Brave Blossoms smashed Korea 62-5 on their home turf at Incheon Stadium to set up a thrilling finale with Hong Kong on May 25 in Tokyo.

The last time these two teams met was at the 2013 Asian Five Nations tournament. That game, played in Hong Kong, was comfortably won by Japan 38-0, six tries to nil. This year both teams go into this all-important final match unbeaten, but Japan has accumulated a superior point total: 268 to Hong Kong’s 172. This Sunday at Tokyo’s National Stadium they will battle it out for an automatic place representing Asia at the 2015 RWC.

Japan beating Hong Kong 38-0 in 2013 (© 2013 JRFU, photo by RJP H. Nagaoka)

This match will be the last sporting occasion to be held at Tokyo’s National Stadium before it undergoes major renovations in preparation for the 2019 RWC. It’s a monumental game that Japan needs to win as the team vies for its eighth RWC appearance. But the Blossoms can’t afford to get complacent: Hong Kong has never qualified for a RWC, so expect them to play hard. Home advantage is always crucial to big matches, and the Blossoms will be hoping for a huge crowd to turn out and show their support.

The winner of this match will be placed in Pool B alongside South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and the U.S. in 2015. Although Japan has qualified for every World Cup since 1987, their performance at the event has been less than stellar: just one win recorded in 1991 against Zimbabwe—and a 23-23 draw with Canada at the most recent RWC in New Zealand in 2011.

Coach Eddie Jones will be looking for a much stronger showing this time out. Japan is currently ranked 13th in the world, with South Africa (2nd), Samoa (8th) and Scotland (10th) above, and only the U.S. (18th) ranked below in their potential pool. But it’s not inconceivable that the Brave Blossoms might knock over Samoa, Scotland and the U.S. to qualify for the quarter-finals, showing the rest of the world the great strides Japanese rugby has taken and laying a great foundation for the 2019 RWC in Japan.

Tickets for Japan vs. Hong Kong (May 25, kick off 5pm) on sale through Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU). ¥1,500-4,500 (adv), ¥2,000-5,000 (door). http://ticket-rugby.jp/ticket/a5n2014.jsp (Japanese only)