If the Brave Blossoms were to venture out of their hotel in Monaco, where they are staying ahead of their Rugby World Cup Pool D game with England, and head to the famous casino they would see their opponents are overwhelming favorites to not just win Sunday's game in Nice, France, but top the pool.

The 2003 champions put aside some recent poor form, marred by ill-discipline, to down Argentina 27-10 in their opener last weekend, a day before Japan opened their account with a 42-12 victory over Chile. The turnaround in fortunes for Steve Borthwick's men means the odds on them advancing to the quarterfinals and playing the runners-up from Pool C are 1-10.

Japan captain Kazuki Himeno, pictured playing against Italy on Aug. 26, 2023, will return from injury for his team's Rugby World Cup clash with England. (Kyodo)

However, if there is one thing Japan know how to do, it is upset the bookies. Back in 2015, South Africa were 1-500 favorites to beat the Brave Blossoms in Brighton, and the whole rugby world knows how that turned out.

Ironically, Borthwick was part of the coaching crew that planned the "Brighton Miracle," and he knows exactly who will be key for Japan, praising veteran back-row forward Michael Leitch, who will be playing his 15th Rugby World Cup game, taking him past Luke Thompson to become Japan's most capped player in the tournament.

"Michael Leitch is a tremendous player," he said. "I was privileged to work with him in the buildup to the 2015 World Cup. He's a really intelligent player, and he's at the very heart of everything that's good about Japanese rugby."

"He's a man I have tremendous respect for. That doesn't change the fact that we want to make sure we outperform him on Sunday night."

For England to outperform Japan will mean them imposing their physical game, while the Brave Blossoms need to improve their all-round speed if they are to have any chance of upsetting the only Northern Hemisphere side, so far, to win the Webb Ellis Cup.

While it is true Japan's average ruck speed against Chile was 3.21 seconds, the second-fastest of the opening round, it was still more than a second slower than Ireland's.

The return of Kazuki Himeno from injury and a red card for Pieter "Lappies" Labuschagne should make Japan more combative at the breakdown. It is then up to the Teikyo University alumni trio of Yutaka Nagare, Rikiya Matsuda and Ryoto Nakamura as to how they release Tomoki Osada and Japan's dangerous back three.

"Communication" was a word often used by the team this week, and that will be key in both attack and defense.

Against Chile, the Brave Blossoms made the most dominant tackles (19) of the first round and won the second-most turnovers (9). But doing that against a side such as England is a different matter.

England were the only team not to lose a lineout in the opening round, conceded the fourth fewest penalties (8), had the second-most kicks in play (43) and the most possession kicked away at 93 percent.

And when Argentina were pinged by the referee, George Ford took full advantage, banging over six penalties to go with three drop goals, as England, despite being a man down for most of the game, played to their traditional strengths and kept the scoreboard ticking over even though they had the fewest phases (6) inside the opposition 22.

"England are a team that manages games with their physicality and make effective use of kicks," noted Nakamura.

England, meanwhile, are aware of the threats that the Brave Blossoms pose.

"They're a good rugby team and they're very dangerous with ball in hand," said full-back Freddie Steward. "They've got powerful runners. You look at the likes of (Kotaro) Matsushima in the back three and the threat he poses with ball in hand. They're a good outfit. We're going to have to be on our best game at the weekend."

"They're a very high-threat team. They play a lot of exciting rugby, a lot of edge-to-edge rugby. That can be a daunting prospect. We know we have to be on our game for 80 minutes. We can't lapse in concentration. We can't slip off anything. We have to be fully concentrated and committed."

The general feeling among those who have watched the two teams over the past few years is that the Japan teams of 2015 and 2019 when they beat Scotland and Ireland, would be in with a fighting chance. But the last four years have proved difficult for Jamie Joseph and his men, and the odds certainly favor England, who are unbeaten against Japan in three tests and five unofficial games.

The 2023 World Cup has so far gone to script, with Uruguay coming closest to an upset against France. Japan are hoping they can once again show there is life beyond the Six Nations and the Southern Hemisphere heavyweights.

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