They’ve captured hearts and minds, and they’re not done yet.

This Sunday Japan, the host nation of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, will take on South Africa for a place in the semi finals.

Russia, Ireland, Samoa and Scotland have already succumbed to the Cherry Blossoms, and head coach Jamie Joseph has moulded a side that is now undoubtedly world class. Capable of thrilling, but also capable of grinding out results against tier one nations.

It has signified a meteoric rise from a country once beaten 145-17 by New Zealand in the 1995 equivalent of this tournament.

In fact, that rise is made even more remarkable if you rewind 12 years before that - when they were beaten by another side familiar to Telegraph Sport readers.


The idea seems inconceivable now, but in 1983 it was a reality. And the majority of players and coaches involved that day are still alive to tell the tale.

On Wednesday, October 12th in 1983, 21 of the county’s best players came together at Haverfordwest RFC for an historic fixture against a touring international side.

Japan had beaten Abertillery before arriving at the Fishguard Road ground in Withybush, for their second ‘warm up’ as preparation for playing Wales in Cardiff.

Coached by Trevor James, who at the time oversaw Haverfordwest RFC and later took roles in both the Llanelli and Welsh set ups, the squad were innovative in their preparation. James reportedly dug a trench on the training field to prepare his pack for scrummaging against the shorter Japanese forwards.

 “We had to put two temporary stands in to hold the game,” said Charles Davies, then secretary at Haverfordwest.

“The Japanese ambassador came to the match and I’d written to the embassy in London beforehand to get a welcoming banner sent for us to put up.

“There were also cameras there for Japanese television and local Schools gave pupils permission to have the afternoon off to watch.”

Pembrokeshire, led by skipper and No 8 Ninian Davies, won the game 28-15 in front of a large crowd that included Welsh greats John Dawes and Barry John.

It all made for a lively post-match reception at the Queen’s Function Centre near Haverfordwest train station – laid on by then owners Ivor and Dina Squelch. The event was attended by the then Town Mayor Brian Hearne, and a large number of WRU and Pembrokeshire rugby dignitaries.

Although intriguingly, some turned invites down due to the lingering animosity from British residents towards Japan following the Second World War.

“Special ties were made afterwards to commemorate the game and it’s remarkable to think it happened when you see Japan now,” added Davies.

“It was a special day for local rugby.”

A measure of how good that result was for Pembrokeshire was the tourists then went on to draw with Neath, beat Newbridge, and push Wales all the way before losing 29-24.

To put it mildly of course, the game has evolved since then. And not necessarily for the better.

The days of Pembrokeshire fielding a regular county side, with selection considered prestigious, are long gone. As is the concept of international touring sides playing against club and regional teams when on tour.

In fact, if you tried to stage such a fixture now, it would be a sure bet the majority would be blocked from playing anyway because of academy, regional, or international commitments.

So worth remembering that Haverfordwest Withybush Retail Park isn’t all about Marks and Spencers, TK Max or Costa Coffee.

It’s also the location where, back in 1983, Pembrokeshire rugby arguably enjoyed its most famous day.

The like of which we will never see again.

Pembrokeshire side: Geraint Bowen, Huw Forster, Kevin Morgan, Wayne Morgan, Michael Holding, Geraint John, Eric Phillips, Brian Williams, John Griffiths, Gethin Evans, Andrew Rose, David Bennett, Nigel Merrony, Roger Price, Ninian Davies (capt). Replacements: Domenico Setaro, Tim Simons, Gordon Thomas, Dai Kirk, Anthony Williams, Richard Thomas.