Japan’s bid to develop a squad capable of reaching the semifinals of Rugby World Cup 2019 – as hoped for by the Japan Rugby Football Union – has seen it reach all corners of the globe in recent weeks.
No less than five different men’s squads have been in action in five different continents as Brave Blossoms head coach Jamie Joseph – who oversees all aspects of Japanese rugby – starts to identify which players will represent the host nation in two years time and beyond.The Sunwolves under Filo Tiatia were in South Africa for Rounds 3 and 4 of Super Rugby and while the franchise has yet to pick up a win this season, there have been marked improvements.
The Sunwolves under Filo Tiatia were in South Africa for Rounds 3 and 4 of Super Rugby and while the franchise has yet to pick up a win this season, there have been marked improvements.
Last year in Bloemfontein and Pretoria the side lost by a combined score of 142-20. This year it was 72-52 against the Cheetahs and Bulls and that was with a number of players injured.
Many of those walking wounded have remained in Japan and trained under Joseph as part of the National Development Squad, with the Asia Rugby Championship, which kicks off April 22 in Incheon, South Korea, the initial goal.
“With the NDS, the Sunwolves and Junior Japan we have about 70 players,” Joseph said. “The Sunwolves will have 27 players on tour and obviously there will be some injuries and some players resting but that still gives us plenty of players for the ARC and Romania test (on June 10).”
Joseph said the ultimate goal would be picking the best 23 from that group of 70 to take on Ireland on June 17 and 24, before thoughts turn to games against Australia and France, among others, in November.
The Junior Japan side recently came second in the World Rugby Pacific Challenge in Fiji, their best ever performance at the tournament.
Satoru Endo’s side opened with a 34-31 win over Samoa A, lost 39-16 to eventual winners Fiji Warriors, before finishing with a 42-33 victory over Tonga A.
“We fell short of our overall aim of taking out the Challenge title, but the second-place finish is the best ever finish for a Japanese side at this tournament,” said captain and hooker Kosuke Horikoshi.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Japan high school select side opened its tour of Europe with a loss and two wins against Irish opposition, as they went down 17-7 to Munster Under 19s before bouncing back to beat Connaught 24-10 and Ulster 20-5.
The final squad earning air miles has been the sevens side, which was recently in North America taking part in the Las Vegas and Vancouver Sevens.
Damian Karauna’s side have suffered in the early stages of the series due to player unavailability and once again they struggled, finishing 14th at both tournaments.
However, Japan has traditionally always performed better at the tail end of the sevens season as the squad becomes more settled and good performances in Hong Kong and Singapore could help close the gap on Russia and see the team avoid losing their core status.