The Dominion Post

Rugby Championsh­ips ‘ultimate for Japan’

- Paul Cully

Former Māori All Blacks and Highlander­s coach Jamie Joseph has been handed a daunting assignment for Japan’s first test since their successful 2019 World Cup.

Joseph, who is in Dunedin, must prepare a side that hasn’t played in 18 months to face the British and Irish Lions in Edinburgh in late June.

It’s a task that is keeping his mind firmly in the present, but the question of Japan’s longer-term place in world rugby is always hovering: in short, for the game to keep developing in Japan, do the Brave Blossoms need to be part of a competitio­n such as The Rugby Championsh­ip?

‘‘That would be the ultimate,’’ Joseph said. ‘‘But before we reach the ultimate it’s a wee bit like the World Cup: a lot of things have to got to start happening.

‘‘For us, we’re a rugby team that hasn’t played for 18 months, so the first thing that needs to happen for us really is to get back and play rugby.

‘‘For me to make comments around what would be great . . . in about three years’ time just would be remiss.’’

Joseph’s remarks reflect the reality of Japan’s situation.

Despite their brilliant World Cup, Joseph said Covid-19 had put Japan ‘‘on their back foot’’, while World Rugby’s new ‘‘Strategic Plan 2021-2025’’ – released on Wednesday – confirmed that any meaningful changes to the global test calendar and competitio­ns won’t happen until 2024, at the earliest.

Joseph said progress on the calendar was critical to give Japan the preparatio­n space it needed to be competitiv­e.

‘‘I think what we need to do internatio­nally, is that we need to sort out the window that suits internatio­nal rugby,’’ Joseph said.

‘‘There’s a conflict there between southern and northern hemisphere. Japan, even though we are based in the northern hemisphere, our rugby is played more along the lines of the southern hemisphere.

‘‘We need to get that sorted and then from that you can work out your competitio­ns.

‘‘The biggest challenge for me as the internatio­nal coach for Japan is getting a season where our players can play domestic rugby that will support our companies, the Top League, our stakeholde­rs and our sponsors, and then give the players an opportunit­y to have a breather away from the game, and have a pre-season and then get into some test matches,’’ Joseph said. ‘‘We’re not quite there yet in that respect.’’

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