New Japan national rugby team head coach Jamie Joseph has warned fans to expect pain before pleasure as he builds toward the 2019 World Cup on home soil.
“I guess there are not many coaches who would come into an international coaching job and accept a program that is going to be very, very difficult from the start,” New Zealander Joseph said in Tokyo on Monday in his first press conference since taking charge of the Brave Blossoms. “But what’s more important for me is the development of the team rather than my reputation.
“We’re only going to get better at playing the top-tier teams if we continue to play them. Players get that experience. This is why the Sunwolves have entered into Super Rugby, and we are continuing to look for top-tier teams to play against. That’s how we’re going to be ready for the World Cup.
“If that means that we don’t win a lot in the next two or three years but we win the main ones when it counts at the World Cup, then I guess as a coach I’m willing to do that. Having said that, if things go according to my plan then we should have a few wins along the way too.”
Former All Black Joseph arrived in Japan last week to begin a job he signed up for in January, having completed his duties as head coach of Super Rugby’s Highlanders last month.
Joseph is returning to a country that he knows well, having played for Sanix Blues from 1995-2002 and represented Japan at the 1999 World Cup.
But the Brave Blossoms’ success at last year’s World Cup in England, where they beat three teams including South Africa, and a fourth-place finish for Japan’s men’s sevens team at last month’s Rio Olympics have upped the ante for the new coach.
“Usually for foreign rugby people who decide to come to Japan there are some sacrifices, but for me personally, I’m really excited about coming to Japan once again,” said the 46-year-old former flanker, who won 20 test caps for New Zealand and nine for Japan.
“I have to pay respect and acknowledge last year’s World Cup team. The hard work of Eddie Jones and his coaching team and all the players who were involved at the last World Cup really has put Japanese rugby back on the world map. It has become a team to be respected. This year also at the Olympic Games, with the Japanese sevens side, just shows that we have the players to go forward.”
Joseph will begin his tenure with a home test match against world No. 7-ranked Argentina at Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground in Tokyo on Nov. 5, before traveling to Europe to play No. 11 Georgia, No. 5 Wales and No. 10 Fiji.
Argentina caused a splash at last year’s World Cup by reaching the semifinals for the second time in its history, and Joseph would like to see world No. 12 Japan emulate the Pumas’ achievements.
“I guess an example for me would be a team like Argentina, who have played in the these competitions and really found it difficult,” said Joseph. “But again, last year at the World Cup they became a top-four team. So there’s going to be a lot of hard work between now and 2019, but that’s certainly what I’m excited about.
“I can’t wait to meet the players, I’ve only just arrived. I have a basic knowledge of our team. I’ve been in Japan for five days, and over the next two weeks I’ll be endeavouring to meet all of the players and Top League coaches and try to assemble a whole new team to take on Argentina.”
Joseph won the Super Rugby title with New Zealand’s Highlanders in 2015 before agreeing to a deal with the Japan Rugby Football Union in January to take over at the end of this year’s Super Rugby season.
Former Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett filled in as interim Japan manager and led the team to an away win over Canada and two home defeats to Scotland in June.
“When I look at the Japanese team in 2015, they were an extremely skillful and a very fit side,” said Joseph. “In terms of ball possession and the running game and all the energy and fitness that took to play, that was their point of difference. I think that’s the strength of Japanese rugby.
“Clearly the power and size is getting better from the days when I was playing rugby in Japan. We were still a little bit behind at international level. But trying to take a power game on would be a mistake. We need to use our strengths.”