'It's pointless': Japan to ditch daredevil style for 2023 World Cup
SPOTLIGHT: Japan thrilled fans with their swashbuckling style at the 2019 Rugby World Cup but head coach Jamie Joseph believes it would be “pointless” to play the same way at next year’s tournament.
The Brave Blossoms beat Ireland and Scotland on home soil on their way to a historic first quarterfinal appearance and won plaudits for their free-flowing rugby.
But Joseph says the sport has evolved since then to reward defensive teams and Japan’s daredevil style will need to be adjusted before the World Cup kicks off in France a year from now.
“The teams who won Test matches in June and July are the best defensive sides, not necessarily the best attacking sides,” said the New Zealander, who has been in charge since 2016.
“That’s a trend that has been created by the way the game is refereed now and it’s a trend that we’ve got to adjust to.
“It’s going to be challenging but it’s pointless trying to play the game of rugby that was successful for us in 2019 against stronger defensive teams.”
Japan have been drawn in World Cup Pool D alongside England, Argentina, Chile and Samoa, and Joseph believes they can reach another quarterfinal if they get their preparations right.
But the coach also says that his team are “a little bit behind” because of the pandemic and injuries.
He also cast an envious glance at Argentina’s participation in the Rugby Championship against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
Japan have no tournament to give them regular games against top-level opposition and the country’s Super Rugby franchise, the Sunwolves, folded in 2020.
Joseph has tried to develop new players by picking oversized training squads but he conceded the situation was “not ideal”, as preparations for the World Cup begin in earnest.
“We’re a little bit behind in terms of our preparation but those are the circumstances that have been thrown at me as the head coach and what I have to deal with,” he said.
“I’m pretty positive about the challenge ahead and that’s what my job is.”
Japan have played only 10 Test matches since the last World Cup, when they were hosts, and have not beaten any of the top nations.
But they ran Six Nations Grand Slam champions France close in a recent Test match in Tokyo.
They led until the 71st minute before losing 15-20 and Joseph believes it marked “a starting point” for his team.
Japan face New Zealand in Tokyo at the end of October before heading to Europe to take on England and France.
Joseph says there is no “magic trick” to building a competitive team and his players “just need more rugby” against the best teams.
“I don’t think it’s something that the coach says or ‘this is what I want you to do’ – you build together,” he said.
“The best way to do that is by playing positive, winning rugby. That’s what we want to do.”
Japan begin their World Cup campaign against Chile and end the pool stage with a potentially decisive clash against Argentina.
The Brave Blossoms will not enjoy home advantage this time and Joseph concedes there was “a lot more energy” surrounding his team’s World Cup preparations four years ago.
But he also says he is “really excited about some of the younger guys breaking through” and is itching to get started when the tournament kicks off.
“It’s not an easy challenge but it’s a challenge that we’ve shown in the past that if we get the preparation right and get the players right, we’re certainly capable of doing it,” said Joseph.
“That’s what we’re working on.”