Japan’s Rugby Team Torn Between Gaining Popularity and Strengthening the National Team? Three Factors” for Japan’s Failure to Qualify for the World Cup | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Japan’s Rugby Team Torn Between Gaining Popularity and Strengthening the National Team? Three Factors” for Japan’s Failure to Qualify for the World Cup

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Leach Michael (center) is knocked down by a fierce tackle from his opponent. After the COVID-19 crisis, the difference in experience between Argentina and Argentina, who had played regularly against South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, really showed on the big stage of the World Cup.

The Rugby World Cup (hereafter World Cup) is being held in France. On October 8, the Japanese national rugby team (ranked 12th in the world), which finished in the top 8 at the previous tournament in Japan, faced the Argentine team (ranked 9th in the world), known as “Los Pumas,” in the final match. Despite putting up a good fight, they lost 27-39 and finished the tournament in third place in the qualifying pool (2 wins and 2 losses) and qualified for the next tournament.

The previous two tournaments, they had failed to advance to the quarterfinals, but went 3-1 in the preliminary pool, and in the previous tournament, they had won all four preliminary pool matches to reach the last eight for the first time in their history, so expectations were high for the first top eight in a hostile environment this time around. Led by head coach (HC) Jamie Joseph and his team of coaches, the team was able to win only two games and was eliminated from the qualifying pool for the first time ever. There were three main reasons for this.

(1) Why did they only have a training camp three months before the tournament?

First, they were unable to coordinate well with the domestic league (League One), and were only able to start training camp in June, which was a remote cause.

The previous two tournaments had training camps in Japan that lasted over 200 days, and the previous tournament had finished the domestic league during ’18 and entered Super Rugby in the Southern Hemisphere (a collection of strong clubs from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and Argentina) in ’19. The Sunwolves and the two teams had been strengthening through a two-team system, and had achieved results in the past two tournaments by strengthening through a series of long training camps in Japan before the World Cup, but in ’20, due to a combination of financial reasons as well as the COVID-19 crisis, the Sunwolves were disbanded. This time, the domestic training camp started in June, three months before the start of the tournament, a late start for the Japanese national team.

The training camp could have started about three weeks earlier if the start of the League One tournament had been moved up one week and the three-week gap between the League One league matches and the playoffs, where the top teams compete for the championship in a tournament, had been made up one week. One sports journalist in charge of a sports paper revealed the reason for the three-week gap between the league and the playoffs: “The league matches are scheduled for April 23.

The league matches ended on April 23, and the playoffs began on May 13 with the top four teams. The previous Top League had a one-week free period, so the semifinals could have started on May 6 or 7 if we had only considered the schedule. However, those were the last two days of the Golden Week holidays, and the TV stations that were scheduled to broadcast live on May 6 and 7 had programs that could not be moved, so they decided to move them back another week.

Nevertheless, the coaches had been holding a series of mini training camps and online meetings with the national team candidates since the League One period, and said, “We can bring them to top condition in seven weeks,” but in the end, they won one game and lost five, including five domestic matches and an away match against the Italian national team. In the three years of Jamie Japan’s second term, he had not won a single game against a top-ranked team in the world ranking until the World Cup against Samoa.

They played the All Blacks XV domestically in July and lost their first game 27-41, but in the press conference after the Argentine team game, HC Joseph admitted to a lack of adjustment, saying, “We were not ready to play against them.

In its second year, League One is still a developing league, and it is understandable that there is a desire to enlist the help of TV stations to increase popularity and recognition. However, if this delayed the start of the national team’s training camp, it could be blamed as a reversal of the original plan.

However, compared to baseball and soccer, Japan’s domestic sports are not nearly as popular, and there will continue to be a “tug-of-war” between measures to promote League One, securing venues, and the schedule desired by the Japanese national team. Therefore, if we do not start working now to create a schedule that looks four years into the future, the same tragedy could repeat itself.

(2) Why was the back three not decisive?

The second reason may be that the back three (the collective name for both WTB and FB) lacked decisiveness due to a lack of deep cooperation in the BK group. The creed and DNA of the Japanese national team is attacking rugby. Coach Tony Brown’s attack was basically based on using skills such as passing and kicking or having the back-three score a try on the counter after a contested kick or turnover.

In the ’19 tournament, many tries were scored after turnovers and kicks, with WTB Kotaro Matsushima scoring five tries and WTB Kenju Fukuoka scoring four. However, in this year’s tournament, the back-three played with speed and fitness, and the only tries scored by the back-three were two scored by WTB Johne Nykabura against Chile and Argentina.

Looking at the back-three alone, WTB/FB Kotaro Matsushima, who challenged France, was the mainstay of the team in the past three years, but FB Lemeki Romano Lava, a regular class player at the World Cup, played only one game in the past three years before the World Cup, and Semisi Masirewa, who left the team midway through the year due to injury, also had an injury. Until the beginning of this year, he had two caps, and Jone Nykabura is a player who has been capped and has become a regular player since the beginning of this year.

Domestically, she has been lacking in decision-making ability and making a lot of mistakes, and was concerned about the World Cup production. After entering the tournament, he was able to make some corrections, but ended up scoring three tries or less, except against a lower-ranked Chilean team.

It is understandable that the team placed emphasis on strengthening their physicality, since the teams they would be facing at the World Cup were all strong physical teams, such as England, Samoa, and Argentina. However, the lack of a fixed lineup and the relative lack of time spent on BK coordination led to a lack of decisiveness.

HC Joseph looks at the practice before the July training games.

Third, why couldn’t we play many high-intensity matches?

The third reason is the lack of high-intensity, high-intensity matches from before the ’19 tournament. In ’22, the domestic league changed from Top League to League One. Of course, the level has improved over the years, but it is still hardly Super Rugby level. Of course, the COVID-19 crisis may have had an impact on the Japanese national team, which was not able to play at all in 2008.

In addition, the Sunwolves’ activities also ended in the middle of 2008 due to the COVID-19 crisis, so they were unable to gain experience on the Super Rugby stage. In the last four years, the only players who played overseas were the captain of the FW, Kazuki Himeno, who played one season with the Highlanders in New Zealand, and WTB Kotaro Matsushima, who played only two seasons with Clermont in France.

The Japanese national team coaches also tried to secure high intensity matches, and although they played three matches against Australia A in 2010 and two matches against New Zealand XV in 2011, they were unable to give many players the experience of intensity that would replace Super Rugby. However, it was not possible for many players to experience the intensity of Super Rugby. In addition, the lack of opportunities for high intensity matches outside of the Test matches certainly did not lead to the development of the younger players.

Yuichiro Fujii, the national team director in charge of training, said, “As I have said before, the Japanese national team has to play with the best team, so it is difficult to organize matches where various players have a chance to play. I think it is best to create an environment that allows players to gain international experience through Super Rugby, junior national teams, and various other creative ways.

HC Joseph also said at the press conference after the final match, “Although there are quality rugby players, there is a lack of quality time to develop such players. The domestic league (League One) is corporate rugby. So, for the most part, the second and third best players on the Japanese teams are not playing enough rugby.

So we need to do something about that. On top of that, the level of professional intensity of rugby needs to be raised. The players need to get used to a different country, a different type of rugby, where they can train and travel every day. If they play against South Africa, they will play differently from Argentina. I think these two experiences will be great experiences for Japan. He concluded by saying , “I think an experience like the Sunwolves is one of the possible solutions.

Japan’s national team has grown with each game since entering the World Cup, and after the game against Argentina, despite the loss, HC Joseph said, “I think we played our best game in four years,” while FL Leach Michael, who was playing in his fourth World Cup, said, “We gave it our all,” and HO Shota Horie, also in his fourth tournament, stated clearly, “We have no regrets.

A new head coach for Japan has not yet been selected, but unless the experience of this tournament is built upon and carried over to the next tournament in 2007, it should be difficult for the coaches and players to advance beyond the top eight of the World Cup, which is held away from home, on their own efforts alone.

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