TOKYO, 15 Oct - Hosts Japan have grown stronger with every game on their way to a maiden last-eight spot, but five of their squad have yet to play a minute on the pitch.

As those on the field can attest, however, the work done behind the scenes by the hooker Takuya Kitade, prop Yusuke Kizu, flanker Yoshitaka Tokunaga, scrum-half Kaito Shigeno and winger Ataata Moeakiola has been essential to the team's meticulous preparations.

Tokunaga, pictured, has so far failed to oust the likes of Michael Leitch, Pieter Labuschagne and Hendrik Tui for his moment on the pitch - but he has been passing on crucial messages from head coach Jamie Joseph in the stand.

"When being the waterboy, it's important not to get over-excited and properly convey the instructions from upstairs," the 27-year-old said. "I can't speak English but I can understand them to a decent level so I'm managing to get the messages across to those who come from overseas too.

"All the non-members have been able to support the team by analysing the opposition and it's nice to hear (encouraging) words from Leitch and everyone. It really pleasing and make us feel we're being recognised."

Tokunaga - who played in Japan's sevens side during the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, inset - greeted the biggest feat in Japanese rugby history with relief rather than excitement.

"I had to care more about the instructions from upstairs and couldn't really get into the game, I couldn't just concentrate on watching it," he said. "I was relieved when the game finished and can't really remember what was going through my mind at that moment, to be honest."

The week has been one of emotional highs and lows, and unseen effort behind the scenes.

"I can't help feeling disappointed, every week I try to be in the squad so I really feel gutted," said Tokunaga. "But I can't dwell on it, everyone's saying our support is important to win games so we switch mentally."

Those left out of the 23 look thoroughly into their next opponents and test their team-mates to the limit in training - even to the point where Keita Inagaki confessed team-mate Yusuke Kizu was the toughest player he had faced during the tournament when in a scrum.

"It's really pleasing to hear that from him. I haven't managed to play in a game but I can feel my growth during the tournament from words like that," Kizu said. "I feel there's positive influence directly on the team when we apply good pressure."

The approach applies not just to the forwards but for backs as well, and everyone is readying themselves for the chance that could still arrive.

"We analyse how the opposing team uses their set moves and moves off their set-pieces, mauls. We are intent on applying pressure to our backs (in the same manner as their next opposition)," Shigeno said.

"(Yutaka) Nagare's been putting in good performances every game. I really want to play myself but we're pushing and improving each other in the training so I'm pleased he's playing well."

"I never know when the chance comes my way, so I'll just continue what I've been doing and always keep myself prepared."

RNS mn/djk/sw