INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA – Saturday’s opening game of the inaugural Asia Rugby Championship may have marked a new era for the sport in the world’s largest continent, but Eddie Jones has his eyes set on only one thing.
“The Rugby World Cup is all I care about,” the Japan coach said Friday after his side held its final training session at Namdong Asiad Rugby Ground, ahead of its clash with South Korea.
The new tournament, which takes over from the Asian 5 Nations, sees the top three sides in Asia — Hong Kong enters the fray the following week — play each other on a home-and-away basis, in the hope that levels will rise to allow two Asian countries to play at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which will be hosted by Japan.
“We have restructured our elite men’s and women’s competition to help create opportunities for the top teams to play more matches against opposition in World Rugby’s high-performance bands,” said Asian Rugby Football Union President Trevor Gregory.
“Our aim is to try and get more Asian countries into the performance, and ultimately high-performance bands. Countries in the performance band need to play at least 10 test matches a year and the new home-and-away Asia Rugby Championship is a first step toward that goal.”
Japan is the only Asian team in World Rugby’s (formerly the IRB) high-performance band. Hong Kong and South Korea are in the next tier down, the performance band, while the rest of Asia is in the development band.
It’s a point not lost on Korea prop Shin Dong-won, who spent seven years playing in Japan’s Top League.
“Playing four such big games is huge for us,” he said following his side’s captain’s run. “The young guys on our team have very limited experience and for some this will be the first time they have ever played a foreigner.”
But for Jones and his team, this year’s World Cup is what matters.
“Every game we play is in preparation for the World Cup,” said Jones. “We are 20 percent where we need to be for the World Cup, but I am pleased with the players’ effort and attitude. I am not looking at the game as itself. It’s all preparation.”
Jones said the team needs a Plan B in place by the time it takes on South Africa in Brighton, England, on Sept. 19, in addition to its natural running game and that it would be working on different game plans during the upcoming months.
“We need to develop a more tactically varied approach,” he said. “Within games we will be changing the plan so the players feel comfortable playing them.”
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