HONG KONG – There can’t be too many Japan rugby coaches who have gone shopping for a cricket bat so he could use it at a training session.
Yet that was exactly what Eddie Jones did last week as his side makes the final preparations for its opening game at this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Sadly though, the experience was not one he enjoyed.
“A guy came up to me at (London sports store) Lillywhites and asked who I was coaching,” he told Kyodo News by telephone from England on Saturday evening. “I told him Japan. He asked who we were playing first and I said South Africa and he said ‘Try to keep it under a hundred.’ That’s how Japan are seen.”
And as Jones explained, it’s not just the average man in the street who thinks that way.
“At the welcome ceremony (on Friday in Brighton) they showed a history of Japan at the World Cup and it was terrible. And then they asked do we want to see it again. It’s the patronization of Japanese rugby. They just say we are brave and do our best but can’t win.
“But I haven’t spent the last four years so we can be treated like a joke. We are not here to be a joke side, we are here to win games.”
And while Jones admits his side doesn’t exactly have it easy with its first opponent, two-time champion South Africa, he wouldn’t want it any different.
“You might as well play the best first and from what we are hearing South Africa are likely to play their strongest side,” said the man who was a technical director with the Springboks when they won the Webb Ellis Cup in 2007.
“Most Tier One sides would look at the game with us as a chance to play other members of the squad so it is probably a sign of respect and it’ll be fantastic for the Japan boys to play some of the best players in the world.”
The Brave Blossoms go into the game on the back of a 13-10 win over Georgia that Jones described as “massive.”
“We only arrived in England on the Tuesday (before the game on Sept. 5) and started with a rolling maul and got three points and finished with a rolling maul and seven points against a side that a year ago we couldn’t compete with in that area.”
Jones said that No. 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani had recovered from the concussion he suffered against the Lelos, but an ankle injury he initially picked up against the World XV on Aug. 15 could mean he will miss the opening game on Sept. 19.
Flanker Justin Ives is also unlikely to be fit for the opener, but the rest of the squad is raring to go.
“Everyone is fully fit,” Jones said. “The team are settling in very well, they’re all eating well and things are moving in the right direction.”