Jamie Joseph: Can he build on 2019 RWC?
With the news this week that the Japan Rugby Football Association head coach Jamie Joseph has agreed to stay on in his role until 2023, we look at his possible legacy and obstacles at the helm. Japan rugby, rightfully, is riding on a wave of optimism, however, there are many issues to be ironed out domestically in rugby. All rugby neutrals want to see Japan succeed, due to the brand of exciting rugby, and raw emotion they displayed this year.
On Monday, JRFU President Shigetaka Mori said, “We highly appreciate that (Joseph) built up the skills of the Japan players to the world level in just three years since taking over as head coach of the men’s national team on Sept. 1, 2016. By leading us to the best eight for the first time at this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, we were able to glimpse the backs of the world’s best. I’m really looking forward to seeing how strong Japan can be under the guidance of Mr. Joseph.”
Brave Blossoms RWC 2019
It would be difficult to find a rugby fan who can argue that the Japanese national men’s rugby team had a poor campaign at home at the Rugby World Cup this year. The Brave Blossoms won Pool A with victories over Russia, Samoa, Ireland and Scotland and then faced eventual RWC champions, South Africa, in the quarterfinals to lose 26-3.
It was the first time Japan, or any team from Asia, had reached the knockout stages of the World Cup, and with it gained the unconditional support of a nation and countless more around the globe. The undeniable success at the Rugby World Cup needs to translate into legacy within Japan Rugby, as well for Joseph in his role, to make the most of the wave of euphoria that is around Japan based on the achievements and rugby heroes the team have created.
Joseph, with the backing of the JRFU and his impeccable coaching team, also managed the national squad very shrewdly over the course if 2019. By being in camp from the start of 2019, no team had spent more time together than Japan in preparations.
In allowing players to have game time within Super Rugby, in training games and with the national team in tournaments like the Pacific Nations Cup, the players had the ultimate preparation.
Will Joseph be allowed such freedoms over the next 4 years with his squad and with the ultimate departure of the Sunwolves from Super Rugby, and growing influx of international players to the top League in Japan, will local players be given an opportunity at the highest level?
Super Rugby and new professional leagues
One obstacle is the ongoing debacle with new league talk in Japan as well as the Sunwolves exit of Super Rugby. Joseph needs a growing number of Japanese and eligible players playing at the highest level.
Recently talks of a new Japanese pro rugby union league set to start in 2021 were being touted. The press conference for the 18th November was called off, however, with the latest rumour-mill being that a preparatory committee was set up to report back early in 2020. Its also believed that the tournament will now likely only feature 6-8 teams.
Another article in Japan Forward suggested that “an idea has been floated within JRFU of letting the current Japan Rugby top league go professional, but the views of officials of the union are still far from unified. Japan’s rugby-playing population is merely about 100,000, and the number of rugby clubs at high schools comes short of 1,000 nationwide.”
The Sunwolves offered top-level rugby for Japanese players for the past few years in the Super Rugby competition, but 2020 will be the last year the team is involved unless some backtracking decision is announced soon.
The recent announcements from Global Rapid Rugby still leave room for one Asian based team to enter the tournament in 2020, but it’s unclear if Japan will be, or want to be, involved.
Japan in the Rugby Championship?
The national team is now being rumoured to join either the Rugby Championship or another top-level competition. You feel these developments are vital, despite the incredible achievements of Joseph and the Brave Blossoms in 2019. Playing Tier-1 rugby is essential to keep the quality and momentum going for the national team.
Joseph has built some depth, has led Japan to their highest ever World Rugby ranking and a first quarterfinal at the RWC, as well as winning the 2019 World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup, so it would be a hard-nosed betting man to suggest he will accept anything less than an improvement on these results and feats.
It’s difficult to see how this can be sustained unless the team is competing against the best, home and away, leading up to the RWC in France in 2023.
The Japan Under 20s also won the Under 20 World Rugby Trophy this year and there is the annual Pacific Nations Cups to contend for.
2020 confirmed rugby internationals
World Rugby has confirmed four 2020 test matches for the Brave Blossoms.
- July 4, 2020, England (home – Oita, Japan)
- July 11, 2020, England (home – Kobe, Japan)
- Nov 14, 2020, Scotland (away)
- Nov 21, 2020, Ireland (away)
Jamie Joseph’s contract extension officially runs from January 1, 2020, until December 31, 2023, and he said on reaching milestones with the Japan team: “we could achieve our target of reaching the top eight. However, if we look ahead to the future, there still are many things needed to be worked on. I am now determined to develop the team more than ever. The preparation for the next World Cup starts today and it’s important for all those younger players who want to be part of ‘One Team’ in 2023 to start challenging now.”
The Japanese team won’t lose too many of its stars from 2019, but Joseph will need to blood new talent soon to have players ready for France 2023. In addition, they won’t have the home crowd and ground advantage so they will need to make the most of the next 4 years to start winning on neutral or overseas grounds.
Legacy and momentum
After the team’s heroics in 2015 (beating SA and narrowly losing out on the quarterfinals), the Japan Rugby Football Union “failed to ride the momentum of Japan’s success in England and the players spoke of their hope that this time around things would be different.” said a report in Kyodo News. There is a concern the JRFU won’t make the most of what the team and Joseph have achieved in 2019.
Rugby development: Japan youth face obstacles in rugby
One of the biggest domestic hurdles is the opportunities or lack thereof for Japanese youths to play rugby in Japan.
Most reports from within Japan suggests there is a huge decline in the number of junior high and high schools with rugby. Some of the reasons listed are lack off access to rugby teams at a junior level, poor fields, lack of time to play multiple sports and youths opting for baseball, soccer, tennis etc.
Even well-publicised accomplishments through programs like the Asian SCRUM Project and Childfund Pass It Back claim to have made massive inroads into getting youths in Japan involved in rugby, but there is a sense of scepticism online with those involved in rugby in Japan.
How Joseph and the JRFU maintain momentum and ensure a long-lasting supply of Japanese players and public interest in rugby over the next four-year cycle will be a challenge, but positive rugby results will be one way to ensure the interest remains buoyed in the media and with the wider public in Japan.
Read more about rugby in Asia:
- The Dubai Emirates 7s have confirmed the pools for 2019.
- Read about the upcoming SEA Games this December which includes rugby sevens.
- The best rugby tournaments in Asia this November!
- Asia Rugby men’s 7s Olympic qualifiers 2020.
- Will Japan field a team in GRR in 2020?