• Kyodo, AFP-Jiji


Japan rugby coach Jamie Joseph is relishing a 2023 World Cup reunion with “Miracle of Brighton” architect Eddie Jones, but warned Tuesday that more top-level competition was “crucial” for his team’s preparations.

Joseph told an online news conference that Japan suffers “from a lack of depth” and that his team needs “to create a whole layer of experience” as an alternative to the now-disbanded Sunwolves if the national team is progress out of the pool phase in France.

Otherwise it would be tough to get out of a pool that will feature England, Argentina, either Samoa or Tonga and the second-ranked team from the Americas — most likely Canada or Uruguay.

“Having a competition like Super Rugby is crucial,” Joseph said from his home in New Zealand. “I don’t believe Top League alone is going to be enough rugby unless there is an extended test season.”

The Sunwolves were dropped from Super Rugby this year, and Joseph said that while “result-wise they were not very successful, they were just what we needed in terms of preparing and developing players for last year’s magic campaign at the 2019 World Cup” when Japan reached the quarterfinals for the first time.

National team director Yuichiro Fujii said the world rugby calendar was set for some big changes — in part due to COVID-19 — and while the Top League was important he admitted “We are thinking about various options to make up for the fact we have no Sunwolves.”

“From 2022 we may start in a different tournament,” he explained, saying it could be in the form of a combined team “so as many players as possible can experience games at an international level.”

Jones’s links with Japanese rugby go back decades and he is still director of rugby for Tokyo club Suntory Sungoliath. But Joseph is confident of outwitting the wily Australian when they meet in three years’ time.

“I hope that he thinks that we’re far too behind England to be worried about at this stage,” Joseph said. “He’s got an intimate knowledge of pretty much everything in rugby apart from what we do. We’re adapting all the time.

“We need to create moments to beat the top teams in the world. We’re never going to beat them by 30 points like New Zealand or South Africa. It’s always on the edge and if we are successful it will be the result of a tight game. We need that mentality and the players understand that.”

Japan was forced to turn down an invitation to last month’s Autumn Nations Cup in Europe because Joseph and his coaching staff could not re-enter Japan to prepare the team because of coronavirus restrictions.

Japan also had to scrap home tests against England and Wales in the summer, and away games against Ireland and Scotland in the autumn.

Joseph will return to Japan at the end of January and Fujii said he hopes the Brave Blossoms will play three tests this summer, in addition to taking on the British and Irish Lions on June 26 in Edinburgh.

While Fujii was not in a position to say who the tests would be against, he did say negotiations were ongoing with one of the sides that was ranked in the top band in Monday’s World Cup draw — either South Africa, New Zealand, England or Wales.

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