Mana Furuta learns from the best to separate Sakura Fifteen from the rest

Having rubbed shoulders with some of the best women’s rugby players in Australia’s Super W competition, Japan international Mana Furuta is looking to share her knowledge with her national teammates and make the Sakura Fifteen a force on the world stage.

The 24-year-old Fukuoka Prefecture native joined the Canberra Brumbies on loan from her Japanese club earlier this year, and is now taking part in the national team’s Australian tour ahead of the Rugby World Cup in October.

Mana Furuta (L) playing as a member of the Brumbies women’s rugby team in Canberra in March 2022. (Photo courtesy of Brumbies)(Kyodo)

Japan, ranked 12th in the world, will play test matches against 21st-ranked Fiji, fifth-ranked Australia and an invitational Barbarians side in May.

“I want to use my skills and experience and contribute to the national team,” said Furuta, who plays at centre.

Standing 1.67 meters tall and weighing 69 kilograms, Furuta is light compared to the 100kg women with and against whom she regularly plays.

Despite her height deficit, she has grown as a rugby player in training matches against bigger and stronger opponents, and sees improving her rugby education in Australia as a great opportunity.

“(When I play against big players) I’m able to react before them. I pretend every game is a World Cup game,” she said.

Furuta’s father is a former rugby player and had a huge influence on his development as an athlete. Ever since she was young, Furuta remembers chasing after a rugby ball and enjoying being active.

She started her professional career with the Arukas Queen Kumagaya women’s rugby sevens team in 2020 and then joined Tokyo Sankyu Phoenix in 2021. She has nine caps with the Japanese national team in the rugby 15 version.

Furuta tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in 2016 and did the same to his left knee in 2020, but returned from those serious injuries to start all three games of Japan’s year-end tour of Europe. last November.

She scored her first try in Japan’s narrow 15-12 loss to Ireland in the tour final.

As they prepare for the World Cup in New Zealand, postponed from 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Sakura Fifteen are looking to emulate their male counterparts and put women’s rugby in the spotlight.

The men’s national team under head coach Jamie Joseph reached their first World Cup quarter-final of 2019 on home soil, their success inspiring the nation.

Women’s National Head Coach Lesley McKenzie, on the other hand, oversees an inexperienced squad of 10 players who have yet to earn their first cap.

Women’s rugby is still relatively underexposed in Japan and elsewhere, but Furuta believes it has major growth potential.

“I imagined how great it would be if we could inspire a nation like (the men’s World Cup team) did,” she said.

“I also want to be part of an epic sporting moment.”