BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – New Brave Blossoms coach Jamie Joseph hopes many of the country’s top players will return to Japan next year to play for the Sunwolves.
Speaking to Kyodo News in Brisbane, ahead of Saturday’s game against the Reds, the current Highlanders coach said, “If I can get all the players coming back playing Super Rugby for the Sunwolves next year that will help us” prepare for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Joseph doesn’t take on his new role until August — with Ryuji Nakatake and Mark Hammett acting as interim coaches in the meantime.
But he has given his new job some thought despite concentrating all his efforts on trying to lead the Highlanders to back-to-back Super Rugby championships.
“Next year one of my goals is to attract all the Japanese national players around the world back home (to) play for the Sunwolves,” he said.
“I think it is important for our preparation for the World Cup. If we have a Sunwolves team and we don’t have the majority of the national team playing for them, it doesn’t really serve a purpose for our preparation. So that’s a big challenge for us.
“Ideally getting all the guys back to Japan would be good for the team.”
Nine members of the Japan squad that won three games at last year’s Rugby World Cup are currently plying their trade overseas.
While some have longstanding connections with the sides they play for — Fumiaki Tanaka is in his fourth season with the Highlanders — others moved as a result of their unhappiness with how the Sunwolves were conducting negotiations.
However, a number of those players have struggled to get playing time with their new clubs.
Ayumu Goromaru was told by the Reds that his English needed to improve if he was to become a regular in the Brisbane-based side. And Joseph admitted the language issue was one reason Tanaka has spent most his time as understudy to All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith.
“One of Aaron’s strongest qualities is his ability to communicate and that’s a challenge for Fumi because of the language barrier. In Japanese, no problem, but in our team it is,” he explained.
It’s no coincidence Japan’s top-performing players overseas are the New Zealand born pair of Michael Leitch and Hendrik Tui, and while Joseph didn’t go as far as to say it would be requirement for all Brave Blossoms to play for the Sunwolves, he certainly hoped the Japan-born players would sign for the Sunwolves.
“It’s easier to play in Japan, they don’t have the language barrier, they’re comfortable, they understand everything,” he said.
“But they have to be comfortable their rugby is going to improve under the coaching team so that is something I will need to persuade the players. And that they will be part of the national team moving forward.”
Taking over from Eddie Jones would be a daunting task for many coaches, but Joseph is relishing the task ahead.
“I’m excited about the challenge,” he said. “We’ve got to challenge for the World Cup in 2019. We’ve got three and a half years to prepare for that. Like with all coaches that have gone up to Japan it’s not going to happen overnight. But I think I’ve got a really good foundation.”
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