Eddie Jones’ decision to leave Japan after the Rugby World Cup has led to widespread reports that the nation’s new Super Rugby franchise will be taken away.
Coming just weeks after Japan’s plans to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup were thrown into turmoil with the announcement that the stadium slated to host the opening game and final would not be ready in time, Japan rugby is in a state of crisis.
Yet, rather than try to explain the position they are in and what they are doing, the powers at be at the Japan Rugby Football Union have decided silence is the best policy.
When asked to comment on Jones’ departure and the lack of confirmed players for the new Super Rugby side, a spokeswoman at Japan Super Rugby Association (JSRA) wrote to Kyodo News on Wednesday saying, “JSRA is keep doing the best effort for Super Rugby Japan team.”
Meanwhile, the response from a senior figure at the 2019 organizing committee on the stadium issue was simply, “We are forbidden to say anything by World Rugby.”
On Tuesday, JRFU general secretary Noriyuki Sakamoto veered slightly from the script when he admitted that World Rugby “are concerned that Japan are capable of hosting the 2019 World Cup.”
As to who will replace Jones on the Super Rugby side, Sakamoto said “It was possible we could make a decision before the World Cup starts.”
Jones himself would not publicly comment on the ongoing issues surrounding the new Super Rugby franchise. But sources close to the matter have said there is no way the Japan team will be ready when the expanded tournament kicks off in March 2016.
Kyodo News was informed by a reliable source that as of 10 days ago, just five players had signed contracts with JSRA, the main stumbling block being the reluctance of players to leave their companies, who the JRFU assumed would cover the expenses of the new team.
While there has been silence in Japan, SANZAR — the organization that runs rugby in the Southern Hemisphere — was more forthcoming on the issue with a spokesman replying immediately to Kyodo News’ request for a comment.
“SANZAR is continuing to work closely with the Japan Rugby Football Union as it strives to meet robust criteria for introduction to Super Rugby in 2016,” the spokesman wrote. “A project of this magnitude doesn’t come without its challenges. However we remain resolute and committed to working through these with the JRFU to prepare for an expanded 18-team competition in 2016.”
However, reports from overseas suggest SANZAR is already making contingency plans.
Sydney’s Daily Telegraph has reported that various plans have been drawn up that would either see Japan’s team dropped and a 17-team tournament run, just the new Argentine team added to make it a 16-team competition, or another team added to keep the planned 18-team tournament.
While SANZAR is, to some degree, at fault for allowing things to get to this stage, the problem is it has not always been told what is happening in Japan.
As one long-time observer of Japanese rugby pointed out: “The JRFU would have acted toward SANZAR the same way they acted toward Rugby World Cup Ltd., when talking about preparations for RWC 2019.
“They told RWC that the new national stadium preparations were on plan and that the stadium would be ready at every meeting and then three days later the plug was pulled.
“SANZAR officials would have been told what they wanted to hear all the way.”
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