Japan Have An Added Incentive To Beat The Boks

(Photo Credit: Clive Rose/World-Rugby/Getty Image)

Japan's players and coaches will have an added incentive to write more Rugby World Cup history against South Africa on Sunday - the anniversary of the death of a true legend of their game. 

Seiji Hirao, a former captain and head coach of the national team, died three years ago this Sunday from cancer, aged 53.

Known as "Mr Rugby", Hirao won 35 caps and represented Japan at three Rugby World Cups - 1987, 1991 (as captain) and 1995. He went on to coach them at the 1999 tournament.

Full-back Ryohei Yamanaka, who was managed by Hirao at his club, Kobe Steelers, said: "It's the date he passed away, so there'll be a game on an important day for me as well." 

Scrum coach Shin Hasegawa has particular reason to remember Hirao's influence on his career. "I'm a bit emotional talking about Hirao," he said. "He was the one who picked me for the national team, he was the one who played me. We have a game on a special day. I hope we can pay him back.

"The best memory is receiving a letter in my room a day before our opening match in the 1999 World Cup. It wasn't that long but had things that encouraged me and made me feel, I need to fight for this man. 

"I remember heading into the game with a good motivation. I asked him one time why I was chosen and he said, 'for the scrum, of course', so I really focused on it. He really kept his eyes on me and was a great coach."