Pandemic leaves Japan 'clearly behind' for World Cup
SPOTLIGHT: The pandemic has stunted Japan’s rugby development and the 2019 quarterfinalists are now “clearly behind” in their preparations for next year’s World Cup, head coach Jamie Joseph warned on Tuesday.
Japan played no games in 2020 because of coronavirus restrictions, denying them the chance to build on their historic run to the last eight in the previous year’s World Cup on home soil.
They managed seven matches in 2021 but Joseph fears his team have lost ground against the world’s best, as they look towards next year’s World Cup in France.
“One of the biggest challenges that I’ve faced since the World Cup in 2019, like a lot of other people around the world in sporting teams, is the pandemic,” said former All Black Joseph, announcing his squad for four home Test matches, against Uruguay and France.
“The first year we had no rugby, last year we played seven games, and so we are clearly behind in terms of our development.”
Japan have been drawn in a World Cup group with England and Argentina, both of whom have seen regular action in the Six Nations and Rugby Championship throughout the pandemic.
Joseph said the games against Uruguay and Six Nations champions France would give Japan a chance to “test new players” and “grow depth in all positions”.
The New Zealander on Tuesday picked two squads – a full Test-match squad and a development squad – in a bid to run the rule over as many players as possible.
South African-born duo Pieter Labuschagné and Gerhard van den Heever are in the Test-match squad, while Wimpie van der Walt and Shane Gates are in the development squad.
Meanwhile, there are a few Australian-born players in the Test squad as well.
They are Jack Cornelsen, Ben Gunter and Dylan Riley.
The development squad will face a team of Japan-based Tongan players in a charity match in Tokyo on June 11.
Joseph said the decision to axe the Japan-based Sunwolves from the Super Rugby club competition in 2020 has made it “very difficult to find matches of substance that really prepares players for Test matches”.
“You sort of roll with the punches as a coach and what I’ve tried to do to be able to counteract that is to pick two teams and create more games as best we can,” he said.