x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

All that shines is not gold in Japan rugby

According to ex-Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, Japan's quest to join the global game's elite is still hamstrung by an over-reliance on imported players.

Japan, in red and white, were too strong for the Arabian Gulf in Tokyo on Saturday.
Japan, in red and white, were too strong for the Arabian Gulf in Tokyo on Saturday.

When Sean Hurley touched down a late try for the Arabian Gulf to conclude their Asian Five Nations mission impossible in Japan, it was the archetypal consolation score. It was as though the part-timers had been afforded the crumbs for which they had been scavenging under the rich man's table.

"Thanks for travelling 8,000kms to provide an opposition for us, here is your try. Perhaps we will see you again next year?" If the Gulf were in doubt over the relative resources of their hosts in Tokyo, they might be interested to learn that Eddie Jones, the former Australia coach, was an educated observer in the stands. Jones is coach of Suntory, a club side in Japan's domestic league. Despite having one of the shrewdest thinkers in the game on their doorstep, the Japanese union have never felt the need to tap into his wealth of knowledge.

On the surface, it seems as though they do not need to anyway. Japan have 10 wins from 10 games in the three-year history of the Asian Five Nations, the elite competition for rugby on the continent. They are already top of the table this season, despite having played a game less than their rivals, with a positive points difference of 113. However, despite the results, not everything is rosy in the garden of the Brave Blossoms. According to Jones, Japan's quest to join the global game's elite is still being hamstrung by an over-reliance on imported players.

Their 60-5 victory over the Gulf at the weekend was marshalled by James Arlidge, a New Zealand fly-half, who qualified to play for Japan on residency grounds - but does not even live there anymore. He now plays for Newport Gwent Dragons, the Welsh province. And Jones believes it is hindering the development process. "You have to have a national team that supporters can identify with," said the former Wallabies coach.

"If you pick players who qualify under the IRB regulations, they should be very good players who really add to the team. "I think Japan definitely have an issue at the moment where they have five or six [expatriate] players in the side, and you have to ask: are they good enough to be picked ahead of younger Japanese players? There would have to be a question mark about that. "I think it is very important you get the balance right between having enough homegrown players, and enough foreign players that are going to add quality and value to the team.In a lot of ways you are better off bringing through young Japanese players who might add more to the team in the next four or five years."

And what about the vanquished underdogs from the Gulf? Is there much point in them playing matches against Japan, even though the disparity between the two is so great? "If you are going to improve you have to have regular competition. You have to encourage those countries to improve themselves and the only way of doing it is by playing matches like this." pradley@thenational.ae