JA­PAN HAVE ADOPTED A NEW SENSE OF STYLE AND SMILE

▶ Suc­cess has been de­served with their bold play, and the Spring­boks could be the next vic­tims in quar­ters

The National - News - - SPORT RUGBY WORLD CUP - BEN RYAN

Phases of at­tack that run into their twen­ties or thir­ties are not un­com­mon in the modern game.

If they were full of sur­prise and skill then we would all be laud­ing them. But they aren’t. Not even close.

Of­ten one big ball car­rier af­ter an­other, un­til de­fend­ers have run out, or a penalty has been won. Bore off. It’s killing the game. Ja­pan have brought a big de­fib­ril­la­tor to all this, and pumped a new sense of style and smile around rugby’s cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem.

Ja­pan’s suc­cess at this Rugby World Cup has been thor­oughly de­served. In 2015 it was about one mo­ment in one game.

The head coach al­most got in the way and spoilt it.

Ja­pan has a kick­able penalty to draw the game against South Africa in Brighton.

Ed­die Jones, then the Ja­pa­nese head coach, was shout­ing to take the three points. They ig­nored him and went on to score a try that made a movie with him cen­tre stage, and set him up for the Eng­land job.

Four years on, and it is not one mo­ment, but many. Ja­pan de­servedly beat all their pool op­po­nents, and are the first Asian team to make a quar­ter-fi­nal. It might not end there.

All this has come us­ing a num­ber of ideas. They vary in im­pact. Com­bined to­gether, they have put them into a match against South Africa that they will feel they have a real chance of win­ning.

It is worth hav­ing a look un­der the bon­net to see what is driv­ing this. The first is prepa­ra­tion. They have known the draw, sched­ule and op­po­si­tion for a long time.

As hosts they also have the long­est rest pe­ri­ods be­tween games. This has also al­lowed more con­sis­tency in the week prior to a match. Bal­anced and well thought out, they are get­ting to the start line fresh and good to go.

Adding to that fresh­ness is their abil­ity to con­trol the game time of their play­ers. With the Sun­wolves, Ja­pan’s Su­per Rugby fran­chise, they have rested many of their key men for huge pe­ri­ods, and given them ev­ery chance to be at their best.

New Zealand and Ire­land also have a good con­trol over their play­ers, but nei­ther has rested their squad as much as Ja­pan.

Watch­ing how good they look, it does beg ques­tions about the amount of games played in a sea­son. We all love be­ing able to watch high-level club and in­ter­na­tional matches for al­most nine months of the year, but is this re­ally what is best?

Ja­pan have ad­dressed this by re­duc­ing the matches their play­ers play, and also by the style they have adopted. They knew their player base is not big, and phys­i­cally they can’t play a game that matches many of their ad­ver­saries.

They have opted to heighten skill, and twin it with a game plan that max­imises that. It also means the style they have adopted can be a blue­print for the play­ers they want com­ing through their path­way.

That is a great ad­van­tage be­yond this World Cup. Foot­ball teams like Barcelona, Ajax and more re­cently Manch­ester City have had a clear way to play that should mean if their head coach goes, the style re­mains.

When Jamie Joseph even­tu­ally leaves – and he is not go­ing to be short of suit­ors – the JRFU need to stick to the style they have. To un­der­stand a lit­tle more of what they are try­ing to achieve, start with their phase first at­tack.

It is or­gan­ised and re­lies on fast set-pieces. One hur­dle to an up­set this week­end is the fact the Spring­boks dis­man­tled the Ja­pa­nese li­ne­out in their warm-up in pre-tour­na­ment.

That can’t hap­pen again if Ja­pan want to mount a se­ri­ous chal­lenge. Once the ball has been won off scrum or li­ne­out, it’s about get­ting into the space quickly, with even faster sup­port play­ers.

You of­ten see the first break­down with a tack­led player there are two Ja­pa­nese clear­ers over the ball be­fore any op­po­nent has had an op­por­tu­nity to com­pete.

That, or an at­tack that looks to play to a space not a face. It means they don’t need bulk or blunt force to win that col­li­sion. It is speed of move­ment.

The laws are ad­hered to start the ruck, too, as they don’t get to break­downs late, and then have to ap­ply il­le­gal move­ments – like judo rolls and col­laps­ing rucks, which so many do, and World Rugby turn a blind eye to.

Post that first phase they shift the ball very quickly with

op­tions. They play a pat­tern of sup­port play­ers that other teams do as well but they “reload” faster than nearly all their ri­vals so they can hit the ball at pace.

Twinned with that, they switch di­rec­tion of play a lot. Yu­taka Ne­gare and Yu Ta­mura, the half-backs, or­ches­trate this.

It means the line speed their op­po­nents try to im­pose is not as fast as they want, as they aren’t sure where they will at­tack.

An­other tool they use is to avoid get­ting into an arm wres­tle. Tied in to all of this is their fun­da­men­tals.

They have re­alised pass, catch and tackle need to be bril­liant. The ball is moved so ac­cu­rately and swiftly it cre­ates time and space.

Their tackle tech­nique is low. They negate any ar­gu­ment that you have to hit high or you have to clear a player at a ruck il­le­gally.

Tech­nique can sur­pass this. World Rugby need to stop lis­ten­ing to some of the top-tier teams that have helped lead us into the Wild West at break­downs, and see that ap­ply­ing good skills and un­der­stand­ing can take away the may­hem and the in­juries. All this is re­fresh­ing to see as a coach that wants to put skills first.

It’s easy to get dis­il­lu­sioned at what is of­ten dished out. Phase play can be ex­cit­ing if played like Ja­pan.

It must be a joy to prac­tice and play that way. I’ve al­ways wanted to coach like that.

With all the teams at XVs and sev­ens I’ve worked with, it’s been about height­en­ing skill and de­ci­sion mak­ing.

If we want the game to ex­pand then more need to play like the Ja­pa­nese. The global game has a new hero.

AFP

Ja­pan play­ers train­ing in Tokyo ahead of their quar­ter-fi­nal on Sun­day against South Africa

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