NAPIER, New Zealand - Japan may have entertained fans at the Rugby World Cup with its brand of attacking rugby, but its failure to win a match has coach John Kirwan feeling flat.
Japan squandered an eight-point lead in the closing stages of Tuesday's 23-23 draw with Canada, after losing to Tonga and France and being thrashed 83-7 by New Zealand.
"We put teams under pressure, however it's about results," Kirwan said. "If we could have got that win today it would have been a real positive World Cup, the draw leaves us a bit flat."
Although two of the losses were perhaps expected, Kirwan came into the tournament confident that two wins and third place in the pool were realistic.
"I felt that if we had gone out with a win today it would have been a successful tournament, first win for 20 years," Kirwan said. "We had goals, to beat Tonga and Canada, so that was disappointing."
Despite the fact Japan still has not won a World Cup match since beating Zimbabwe in 1991, Kirwan thinks the team is getting closer to playing more consistently on the international stage.
"I think we've made heaps of inroads in style and the way we want to play," said Kirwan, who was part of New Zealand's 1987 World Cup winning squad. "I think we need to learn how to cope with pressure better individually, so we don't make as many individual errors."
Japan's opening match was a thrilling encounter against a nervous France team, and saw Japan close to causing an upset after rallying from an early deficit to pull back to 25-21. France scored a late flurry of tries to win 47-21.
Sloppy mistakes undid Japan against the French, and against Tonga in last week's 31-18 loss.
"It's World Cup pressure, with that intensity we were coming up with mistakes at the wrong time," Kirwan said. "At this level, I think that's the type of pressure we need to get used to."
Kirwan doesn't think the technically-skilled running game he has implemented is not to blame for the team's failure to win.
"If you look at the way the team played, people will tell you we played some great rugby at times. I think we talk about a Japanese style and we play that," said Kirwan, whose Japan contract is coming to an end. "We need to make sure that in critical moments, we can either put the game away or do things that are going to get us back into the game."
Center Alisi Tupuailai points to the fact Japan had "three man-of-the-match winners in four matches" as proof that the team did play the right away.
But, he concedes, "We didn't come away with the results we wanted."
No. 8 Takashi Kikutani, Japan's captain, hopes the nucleus of the side can stay in place over the next few years.
"I am a little disappointed, but I believe there is something we can build on for the next World Cup in 2015 and in 2019," he said. "I think all of us can do a lot more."
Japan's starting XV against Canada featured several foreign-born players: Tupuailai, lock Luke Thompson, flanker Michael Leitch, centre Ryan Nicholas and fullback Shaun Webb. Kirwan had no problem with selecting players who lived and worked in Japan, because it was helping develop domestic talent.
"I think we need to just put a lid on this 'foreigners playing for other countries,'" said Kirwan, rejecting criticism of the composition of his squad. "We have rules and we stick by those rules. I think we need to celebrate that other people can play for other nations."