GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND – Outgoing coach Eddie Jones said Monday he hoped the Japan Rugby Football Union would not rest on its laurels following the Brave Blossoms’ extraordinary Rugby World Cup campaign.
Speaking just hours before the team was to fly back to Tokyo, Jones said the three wins achieved in England had left a fantastic legacy for Japan, but it would be very difficult for the nation to make the quarterfinals of the next World Cup — to be held in the Land of the Rising Sun — if changes weren’t made to the way the game is managed.
“It’s going to be very difficult,” he said. “The one thing we have been successful at is building a team with experience. In nearly every game (at the World Cup) we’ve had a team with over 550 caps. Whoever takes over needs to build experience.”
And Jones said that would be particularly difficult in a number of key positions such as lock, center and wing.
“You need to start planning now. It’s not going to just happen,” he said. “That’s not to say it can’t, it definitely can, but you need to look at the issues and come up with solutions.”
To those who have followed the team over the past four years, it’s clear that the three wins achieved in England were down to two things.
The work ethic and sacrifices made by the players have been incredible, while the coaching and off-field support has been world class and very un-Japanese in some of its methodology.
“This really is a special group of players and coaches,” said captain Michael Leitch. “It’s going to be flipping hard to get the same quality of coaches into the environment. Eddie gave us the structure and how we got the result was down to the hard work of the players.”
Leitch admitted there had been a lot of frustration over the past four years and said, “some things need to change.”
“We are working with the union to make sure there is the same vision so we all work together for the same goal, which didn’t happen in the past,” he said.
“We want to keep the same values, traditions and culture and if those can go through all levels of the game that would be perfect.”
Jones said the onus now was on young players being allowed to develop a professional mindset.
“Every team in Japan from high school to Top League timewise operates professionally. But the mindset is not professional,” he said.
“It needs to change. We changed it with the national team. Players need to know it’s not just good enough to simply turn up at training, or attend a meeting and have no questions or not do any analysis.
“The reason that happens in Japan is not by design. Rugby in Japan is a comfortable environment. Good players go to good universities and work for good companies. They are always in the 1st XV and the coaches never say anything so the players never develop.
“But there is enormous potential in Japan. The mindset just needs to change. Each team needs to make sure the players are the best they can be.
“If young players aspire to be the next to wear the Cherry Blossom and understand what they need to do, then making the quarterfinal is a realistic task.”
Jones said he will leave Japan on Nov. 1 for his new job in Cape Town. But he did not rule out returning one day.
“I’ve loved coaching Japan,” he said. “My (Japanese) heritage has made it special. I’ve got no regrets. It’s been great fun. I’ve signed to go to the Stormers, but who knows what will happen after that. I have a great affinity for Japanese rugby. Who knows what will happen in the future.”
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