BAGSHOT, ENGLAND – With Japan set for a test match on Saturday, the Brave Blossoms’ first since their heroics at last year’s Rugby World Cup, former coach Eddie Jones is less than impressed with how things have panned out regarding his successor.
“What other team, what serious team in the world has in June, only three years to the World Cup, an interim coach coaching the team? Crazy, isn’t it?” he said in a recent interview with Kyodo News in London.
Jones, who said before the World Cup he was not going to renew his contract, has been replaced by Jamie Joseph. But the former All Black will not take over the Brave Blossoms until August, when he finishes his commitments with reigning Super Rugby champions the Highlanders.
As a result, Ryuji Nakatake will coach Japan during the upcoming Asian Rugby Championship, which begins Saturday with a game against South Korea in Yokohama, and Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett will be in charge for three tests in June.
Jones is not impressed with the way the Japan Rugby Football Union have gone about things.
“Yeah, well that’s a contractual situation, but I’m sure they could have got him (Joseph) out of that,” he said.
“A national team job is the most prestigious job, so if you want Jamie Joseph to coach the national team, you say right (now). It’s like what England did with me, I signed a contract with the Stormers for three years, England wanted me to coach their national team, they weren’t going to wait a year for me to come. They said here’s the money, we pay out your contract, you come and coach England. And Japan should be doing the same for Jamie.”
While Jones was frustrated with the succession process, he had nothing but praise for Joseph.
“Look, he’s a good coach, Jamie. I think he needs to change (the tactics), you need to change, but I think he’ll do a very good job. He understands Japanese rugby, he played at Sanix, so he’s got a good understanding. He’ll understand how to manage the Japanese players, so I think he’ll be good.”
Jones, however, did have some advice for the Kiwi regarding the physical state of the players, who last year shocked the world by winning three games at the Rugby World Cup.
“How did we change Japanese rugby history? It wasn’t by sitting around drinking cups of green tea and eating nice okaki (rice crackers). It’s training hard, and the players improved enormously. And now they’re having a great time, you see photos of them in South Africa having big steaks, drinking beers, looking at rhinoceros, they’re having the time of their lives, but they can’t play rugby.
“They have to get back their work ethic. They have to understand, for Japan to be strong at rugby, you’ve always got a physical disadvantage. So the only way you overcome a physical disadvantage is to be fitter, to get better organized and to be better disciplined. Then you’ve got a chance at winning.”
Jones used fullback Ayumu Goromaru —who is getting very limited playing time at the Reds — as an example of a player who seems to have forgotten just why he was so highly regarded after the World Cup.
“You see him, all he’s been doing (is) commercials, practicing eating chahan (fried rice), practicing drinking beer. I went to Japan two weeks ago, every time I turned on the television Goromaru was on. I was thinking I don’t want to see Goromaru eat chahan, I don’t want to see him drink beer, I want to see him kick goals in a game of rugby. And you can’t be doing both.”
The England coach then used two other well-known Japanese sportsmen to emphasize his point.
“Like the other example to me, I always say it, the difference between (Ryo) Ishikawa, the golfer, and (Kei) Nishikori, the tennis player. Like Ishikawa you’d see on television all the time doing commercials, Nishikori you never saw do commercials until last year, because all Nishikori was worried about was becoming a better tennis player. And once he became a top-four player in the world, then he did a few commercials, after.
“Ishikawa was a brilliant golfer, like he was going to be better than (Rory) McIlroy, he swings unbelievably good, but all he concentrated on was commercials. And where is he in the world (ranking), not in the top 100. And Goromaru’s gone from being rated one of the best fullbacks in the world at the World Cup, but now he’s being distracted by chahan and beer and all those silly things, and now he’s not playing rugby well.
“People really admire him, he’s got a job to be a good player, that’s his responsibility. He makes rugby popular by playing well, not by doing commercials.”
As for the future — both long term and short term — Jones said “it’s going to be difficult.”
“I’ve heard a number of players aren’t going to come back and play, so they’re going to have to rebuild the team. Now obviously they’ve still got a lot of good players, they’ve got Shota Horie, Fumi Tanaka, they’ve got good players there, so they’ve got the base of a good team. But they’re going to have to bring some new players in, get them to understand what’s involved in international rugby, it’s not going to be easy. Everyone’s expecting the team to go like this, but it’s going to be difficult.”