YOKOHAMA, 14 Oct – The last time Japan hosted a World Cup in 2002, the ball was round, and memories of it hold a lesson for Japan captain Michael Leitch and his team-mates.

The Brave Blossoms have enjoyed an amazing journey since 2011 but the back-rower insists that while the journey has been memorable, it is not yet time to celebrate. The Japan football team did not think the same way in 2002, and paid the price.

The 31-year-old Leitch, pictured, considered exactly how far his team have come in eight short years during a sleepless night after their historic win over Scotland that sealed a place in the knockout stages of a Rugby World Cup for the first time.

"I haven't actually slept, I've been awake the whole time. I was in my bed at 1:30 and have been awake ever since so I'm a little bit slow today," he said, facing the media 12 hours after the victory. 

"Looking back, since 2011 this team has grown so much, it's scary...

"We've now made history but what's ahead of us is important. This is not the goal. Winning the next game is the goal. Win the next, then the next. What's important is winning the game in front of us. We want to make even more history for Japan.

"I had an opportunity to speak to the captain then (for the 2002 FIFA World Cup) and what he said was that they thought they'd achieved their goals after clinching (a place in) the last 16, and were celebrating at the start of the following week."

The footballers fell at the first hurdle, knocked out 1-0 by Turkey, and Leitch is learning how he and his team might avoid the same fate when they play South Africa in the quarter-finals.

As part of his planning, Leitch also intends to talk to successful rugby players to find out what makes a winner.

"I want to study that from now. I've got many All Blacks who I've fought with in my rugby history (including) Richard Kahui, Stephen Donald, Cory Jane. I want to hear a word from them on how they spent that time and what were the things they put first," Leitch said.  

With the emphatic bonus-point win over the Scots, hosts Japan topped Pool A with four wins from four and saw their world rank rise to a high of seven, usurping fellow quarter-finalists France.

A team who had won just once in 24 World Cup matches heading into Rugby World Cup 2015 in England have since won seven out of eight matches, beating Tier 1 nations three times in the process.

Now there is another date with South Africa to look forward to on Sunday in Tokyo. The Springboks exacted their revenge on Japan with a 41-7 win in a warm-up game on 6 September, four years after the Brighton Miracle, but the Japan skipper thinks the defeat last month will stand them in good stead in their third encounter.

"Last time we played them it was a huge step up after the Pacific Nations Cup (which Japan won), from facing Tier 2 teams to Tier 1," he said. "But there were lots of things we learned. When we concentrate too much we couldn't see the space around us. There were lots of spaces and chances but we made mistakes at important moments." 

RNS mn/js/pp/bo